What does it mean to be an artist? How do you know when you’ve made it? Dublin based artist Philip Gerald examines some of the anxieties surrounding art practice in his first UK solo show at London’s PUBLIC Gallery. Featuring a new series of ten flower paintings accompanied by a series of curated step-by-step videos, “How to be an Artist” presents a manifesto that is both comedy and commentary.
Let’s take a look at the videos first. Central to these is the beer-chugging, wig-donning “bro” persona Gerald plays, who talks us through how to emulate his successful career as an artist. “The videos become a sort of confessional antithesis of what you’re supposed to be doing”, Gerald explains, describing the character as a manifestation of himself.
The language Gerald uses when in character has an irreverent tone to it, not taking anything seriously despite speaking about his career with the utmost confidence. Gerald has described humour as his go-to approach for processing most situations, and the creation of his alter ego has similarly evolved into a never ending joke: “For the last two years I have been driven by this character, creating work under a veil of humour and hyper-masculine bro culture. Unlike the self-contained practice of painting this kind of work needs an audience, they are often the driving force behind your success.”
The instantly recognisable (male) figures in the videos include Larry Gagosian, Jeff Koons and Jerry Saltz, all controversial art world giants. Gerald insists that the work isn’t calling anyone out specifically, but rather an entire culture. Indeed, the things Gerald’s character views as barometers of success such as sold out solo shows are shared by many in the art world. Gerald recalls receiving a message on instagram from a collector last year when his show opened: “the collector congratulated me and said they expected works to be sold out, which is a ridiculous amount of pressure”.
Another example is the recurring theme in the videos of size. Gerald’s character calls on his audience to “get large and hard like me” and later declares that “huge things dominate small things, which is the natural order of the art world”. This is also a reference to blue chip galleries who tend to commission “monstrously huge paintings”, the artist says.
Accompanying the videos are flower paintings on canvas. They resemble Old Master still life paintings in terms of composition but more like crude digital art in terms of execution. The paintings act as visual representations of the kind of work Gerald advises to create. He encourages budding artists to “always paint flowers no matter what” to save the embarrassment of their works not selling.
Despite their lowbrow appearance, the process involved in creating the works is hugely laborious. Gerald begins each painting by sketching on an iPad for about 30 minutes and then painstakingly reproducing the digital drawing onto a canvas, taking up to several weeks to achieve the carbon copy. He works the paintings in such a way that they end up without a single visible brush stroke.
He describes the lengthy process as “ultimately pointless” because it is nearly impossible to tell that the works are painted on canvas when viewing them on instagram. “People assume they are prints, and they might as well have been left that way”. He views this as a means to point out the disparity between analogue and digital: “When I was growing up, drawing on paper was more precious than on photoshop because it elevated something that was otherwise discardable, the way you can delete a digital photograph”. Historically canvas has had a lot of value attached to it, so choosing this medium also echoes his character’s views on value and monetisation of art.
The exhibition is presented as a complete performance, with works available to view online as well as physically installed in the gallery space. Because of the level of curation involved in the videos Gerald is best described as an image creator, not just a painter or performer. The audio is recorded first with the gaps in between erased, so the pace is comically fast, and Gerald then lip syncs over the video. The speech is played over the video footage at a faster pace, giving his words a relentless element like being on a hamster wheel.
Mocking the art world through written commentary adds an additional dimension to Gerald’s work. On instagram, the captions that accompany his posts are long chunks of texts where he goes back into character, and often take up more space than the posts themselves. He confirms: “I pass my gaze upon certain things with a hefty degree of mockery, it’s a bit of an Irish trait as well.” While Gerald’s written language contains a lot of ego, the actual Philip Gerald I got to chat to over the phone couldn’t be further from this. I ask if he has ever considered getting his point across without the layer of humour, to which he replies: “I’ve written seriously before, but this flows different”.
How to be an Artist runs at PUBLIC Gallery until March 9 2021. The exhibition can be viewed here: publicgallery.co/how-to-be-a-artist
About the Artist
Philip Gerald (b. 1992, Dublin, Ireland) lives and works in Dublin. Recent exhibitions include Henri Matisse a Cool Guy, Tuesday to Friday, Valencia, Spain (2020); Strangers in Strangers Lifes, Marquee Projects, Bellport, USA (2020); Art Is Where The Heart Is Vol.5, Galerie Droste, Paris (2019) and Post Digital Pop, The Garage, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (2019).