Hurvin Anderson is known for painting loosely rendered ‘observations’ of scenes and spaces loaded with personal or communal meaning. Anderson’s painting style is notable for the ease with which he slips between figuration and abstraction, playing with the tropes of earlier landscape traditions and 20th-century abstraction. His paintings of barbershop interiors, country tennis clubs and tropical roadsides teem with rich brushwork and multitudes of decorative patterns or architectural features, at once obscuring and adding to underlying ruminations on identity and place.
Michael J. Prokopow's monograph on Hurvin Anderson - the first comprehensive overview of Anderson's career to date - was published just this week. You can now discover more about the artist's influences and inspirations from two excerpts: from the book's Foreword and Prologue...
- Foreword -
Painting is a practice with a history. Perhaps that is why, like many of his colleagues today, Hurvin Anderson has rediscovered or reinvented it as a means for exploring, as he once put it, ‘how history plays a part in the present’. On a personal level, Anderson’s history encompasses both Great Britain, where he was born and grew up; the Jamaica of his ancestry; and the European, American and other sources of his artistic vision. Michael Prokopow, in his thoughtful and thorough discussion of Anderson’s work, is alert to how ‘blunt biographical facts’ of this kind, which can hardly be ignored, pose a danger of tempting critics into ‘essentializing and thus restricting’ interpretations. Anderson’s paintings are often pensive or contemplative in mood but they are never merely inward-looking, for even at their most subjective they implicitly (and often explicitly) brood over experiences of ‘decolonization, emigration, citizenship, culture, society and identity’, as Prokopow points out. Far from being restrictive, therefore, his readings open Anderson’s work up to their widest horizons; this is a critic who understands the artist’s need – and ability – to engage with his reality allusively, metaphorically, through the form of his images, and to evoke the unseen and sometimes forgotten or overlooked through the veil of the visible. Painting allows for this propensity for ‘being in one place while thinking about another’. Such double consciousness allows for critical perspectives on the meaning and function of images charged with feeling – or, indeed, how they may withhold their meanings or evade their imputed functions. In particular, Anderson has been one of the most original reinterpreters of landscape painting for the 21st century; as Prokopow observes, his works ‘luxuriantly question the construction of an often exclusionary British nationalism long-shaped by exploration and colonization’ – and I want to underline that marvelous, obliquely oxymoronic phrase, to ‘luxuriantly question’, because it sums up at once what is so rare and fascinating in Anderson’s art and in Prokopow’s skill at encapsulating the nature of that art.
- Barry Schwabsky
Prologue : ‘To be constantly aware’
Michael J. Prokopow
Out of a scattering of tongues
In commenting on the nomination of British artist Hurvin Anderson (b.1965) for the Turner Prize (Britain’s most prestigious fine art award), the jury noted how, in drawing ‘from art history as much as his own Caribbean heritage’ the artist’s work ‘speaks to our current political moment with questions about identity and belonging’.
Perhaps unwittingly, the jury’s comments reductively and selectively summarized the ideological complexity and aesthetic originality of Anderson’s practice and reinscribed the very patterns of power and thinking that his investigations of contemporary society challenge.
Anderson’s Turner Prize nomination at the age of 52 was seen as a deserved and overdue recognition of his career and one that, while marked by international critical and commercial success since completing his MFA at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London in 1998, nonetheless remained rather under the radar in his own country. However, in describing Anderson’s paintings as ‘dream-like’, ‘compositionally dense and vibrant’ and ‘combining geometric and gestural shapes alongside portraiture, landscape and still-life’, the jury focused its attention on the formal character of Anderson’s work at the expense of a more rigorous discussion of its complex philosophical, ideological and social implications.
Arguably, the jury’s pragmatically convenient descriptions of Anderson’s work might, in turn, explain the decisions he made about the publicity campaign for the prize. Each shortlisted nominee was featured in a video introducing them and showcasing their practice. Anderson’s video opened with the artist standing in a corner of his south London studio flanked by two large canvases leaning against the walls and facing inwards. In a discussion about the practice of an artist nominated for an award ‘to broaden visibility for art’, viewers probably expected to see paintings.
The decision not to show his work meant that viewers of the 3-minute-and-38- second video were provided with a far more personal and immediate engagement with Anderson and what he does as an artist. Overlaid with his careful narration, the video toured the bright studio, lingering on squeezed paint tubes and buckets filled with brushes and tools. Photographs of work in the Turner Prize exhibition appeared only twice: a painting of the interior of a barbershop (from Anderson’s celebrated series shown at Tate Britain in 2009) and a 2017 drawing of boy in the branches of a tree.
The power of the video lay in what Anderson had to say about art and his practice (a significant thing for an artist who prefers to make work rather than talk about it). Anderson spoke of his belief in the importance of looking at the practices of other makers and learning from them – for example, Vincent van Gogh’s (1853–90) reliance on notational techniques to aid his memory and British painter William Coldstream’s (1908–87) use of color as a navigational device. Anderson also discussed the conceptual and physical dimensions of creating images (turning on the finding of what he calls ‘a moment’). And, significantly, Anderson shared his feelings about the necessary role that art can play in showing the experiences of people – Caribbean people in Britain, in particular – who can be missing from narratives of art and for whom the realities of having always to be aware of their surroundings often comes at the expense of freedom and simply being in the world.
The significance of Anderson’s personal, far-reaching comments about his practice were obliquely acknowledged by Tate Director and jury chair Alex Farquharson who, at the time, suggested that there existed a ‘desire to celebrate artists who had previously been neglected by the mainstream’, without explaining why. ‘The art world,’ he offered, ‘is more interested than ever before in important but overlooked figures, and work that was made in fairly recent times that didn’t have the visibility for whatever reason.’ ‘Sometimes that’s to do with its politics,’ he noted, and ‘sometimes it’s to do with the identity of the artist . . .’ While provocative, Farquharson’s analysis of the late or strategic shifts in thinking by the art establishment about the work of artists he called ‘overlooked figures’ did (albeit self-servingly) focus attention on certain and persistent elephants in proverbial ‘white cubes’.
Importantly, however, while conditions mark Hurvin Anderson’s practice, they do not define it. Since he started making art, his images of experiences, family and places have always been about vastly more than their literal subjects. Anderson’s practice constitutes a powerful, expansive and sustained consideration of Western society across time. ‘The place discovered in the process of painting,’ noted Turner Prize curator Sacha Craddock of Anderson’s practice, ‘may also be a place you want to leave.’ But Anderson never leaves. Rather, he simply keeps making work that, when turned outwards, invites people to look past what they think they see and think they know.
Michael J. Prokopow's study is available now from our website. Order your copy HERE.
Hardback • 144 Pages • Size: 280 × 240 mm
Includes 100 colour illustrations
ISBN: 9781848224773 • Publication: June 07, 2021
Series: Contemporary Painters Series
Photograph of Hurvin Anderson by Sebastian Nevols
Maracus II, 2003, oil on canvas, 160.5 x 252 cm, British Council Collection. © Hurvin Anderson. Courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery
Last House (detail), 2013, oil on linen, 210 x 162cm (825/8 x 63 3/4 in). © Hurvin Anderson.
Flat Top, 2008, oil on canvas, 250 x 208 cm. Thomas Dane London. © Hurvin Anderson. Courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery. Photo: Hugh Kelly