Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Michael Fullerton
Tate Britain
7 August 2005

David Milligan 2004
Oil on Linen 90 x 70 cm

An interesting little exhibition, held in the ‘Art Now’ space in Tate Britain, mixing sculpture, video and painting. As far as I could make out the very loose common thread was communication or transmission of information. I have since discovered that he has also produced some small works in red pubic hair. One of which Hair of the First Girl I Ever Slept With, Tracey Emin picked for her curatorial debut as an academician and I saw at the 2008 RA Summer Exhibition. At least it made more sense in her “hang” than this collection seemed to. In all honesty I didn’t understand the relevance or point in showing so many disciplines in the same space.

I did like the paintings though - four portraits, all oil on linen. One was a portrait of John Peel - full length, but smaller than life size. Lots of small rapid brush marks letting the ground show through. The portrait I have chosen is of Glaswegian David Milligan - known amongst the artist’s community as the ‘dole spy’ for his undercover work for the Social Services[1].

The canvas is a modest size and struggled for attention with all the other clutter in this large room. I think the piece would have been even stronger if it had been life size. Not just because it would have held its own better, but because life size would have made the viewer/painting relationship more confrontational. This size is too easy to dismiss as a window onto another world.

The figure is posed slightly off centre and seems to be gazing over the viewer’s shoulder. He is slouched on one side with one hand resting in a trouser pocket the other leaning on a stairwell railing holding a cigarette. He is casually dressed in T shirt and jeans and has an expression of resigned boredom.

Fullerton uses an odd palette, coppery blues and greens, faded browns and reds. The paint actually looks like it has been applied and then sanded off again to leave white on tops of the canvas weave. Paint in any case is very thin. Paintings detailed but subdued by the lack of tonal variation (contrast). Presumably Fullerton works from photographs rather than drawings.

Obviously the pose contributes, communicating a depressing futility about his life and outlook, but I think it is his palette that gives this painting in particular its air of melancholy. It is almost as though his skin is made from creased brown paper bags. It says more to me about ennui than any of the stereotypical photographs of teen angst that were all the rage in the early 21stC.


©blackdog 2009

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