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Euan Uglow

Here’s a weird statement but what the hell:  I can’t be doing with nudes.  Most nudes are about the artist looking at someone in their birthday suit and insisting you look at it too.  I do not accept nudes as a legitimate subsection of any art form. Especially so when it comes to photography but painting gives it a run for its money. Of course, sometimes, the naked form is fundamental, sometimes the story I’m being told requires nakedness and I have no beef with that, but nudes for nude sake, that will get my hackles rising because frequently I find them lazy and repellent. My dislike is so strong that I sincerely hope there is a little circle in hell specifically for artistic nude photography. It’s not that I am a prude, though perhaps I am a bit; it’s just that most nudes are so tediously dull and poorly executed.

I am not sure if this is because most nudes are women. I’ve seen an awful lot of schlong in art more recently; plenty of modern fashion shoots have lusciously lit, basically naked men come hithering away like their very lives depended on it. I just don’t buy that crud about the beauty of the naked form either as the overwhelmingly prominent subject is of someone so young as it makes me feel a bit grubby looking at their junk. But a job’s a job. I don’t begrudge a model’s money. It’s the photographers I reserve my bile for. As a result and because my basic tool is the camera, I am careful about some of the photographers I deal with and the groups I join and contribute to on Facebook, Flickr and ipernity.

Recently I had a tussle with another member of the alternative photography group in Facebook. The interchange started because someone had asked why nudes are not permitted in the group. Various people weighed in with their opinions and I chose to add mine to the pot. I said I don’t like nudes and I don’t want them cluttering up my news feed. I was rewarded by some beardy (according to his profile pic) bellend advising me about limiting what shows up in my news stream, which would kind of defeat the object of being in a facebook group in the first place. In my response to his response, I clarified my position: I had chosen the group because of that particular rule. I must have tugged his tail because his comeback was robust and for good measure added in some drivel about me a prude and embellished it with the fact I am the kind of person who says things like ‘I don’t like opera’ without ever having listened to any.

As it happens I don’t much like opera, but I reached that conclusion by going and seeing some. I started with a bang by seeing Tosca. My reasons were not entirely cultural as when I was young I’d read of one production where the female lead had tossed herself off the parapet to a supposed death many feet below only to reappear because of some extra bouncy mattresses which had been set to cushion her fall. So when Tosca appeared in the ENO’s prospectus, it was too good a prospect to resist. Sadly, she didn’t bounce but it wasn’t dreadful, so I persevered with the other stuff. One that really sticks is Prokiev’s For the Love of Three Oranges which had spectacular costumes and truly deadly music. Opera was always dissatisfying the ones with the good music had plot points so mind batteringly stupidly sexist and unappealing, or heartbreakingly implausible that i would leave the theatre irritated of fuming.

Then, in the middle of winter in 1991 or 2, I saw Carmen at the opera house in Krakow. The heroine herself was played by a sinewy woman who could have been anywhere between 30 and 70, it made no difference at all, she was indisputably Carmen. She completely owned the stage and was backed up by a considerable chorus who just roared in the most gorgeous manner. Inside the Krakow opera house it was Seville, hot and sweaty and wonderful. Outside it was minus 10c tiny shards of glittering ice were silently dropping from the sky. If that was the only opera I’d ever seen, I’d tell you that opera is just about my favourite thing.  But in reality, all things considered, I do not like opera, but I am willing to give it a go as one time, the stars may all align again and twenty plus years later I’ll still be raving about it.

All of this is an attempt to qualify the next thing I am going to say which is that within the admittedly small pool of fine artists and painters in particular that truly excite or engage me, the bizarrely underrated Euan Uglow is without a shadow of a doubt the one I will never tire of and who’s output has had a huge influence on the kind of artist I aspire to be. And yet, there cannot be many other painters who’s output is so completely in the lady section of the naked people venn diagram.

So why Uglow? Well Uglow looks. I’ve read a bit about the male gaze, but Uglow isn’t gazing, he measures, then he looks and measures and paints. One quote that I like about the glacial pace of his working methods is about a model who got engaged, married and divorced in the time it took him to complete one painting. This formality, this checking, this making sure is something that completely chimes with me. I would never put myself in the same league, I am not a painter for starters, but my images are about repeated visits to the same place, repeated photographing of the same thing, repeated printing in different ways, measuring each image against my intention and the meaning of the original walk. I get Uglow and he rewards me every time I look at some of his work.

I count myself lucky that I first encountered Uglow in a pristine unpeopled Whitechapel gallery during the 1989 retrospective. This was when it was possible to have the entire gallery to yourself for most of the day. I was working round the corner and the exhibition was either free or cheap because I went more than once. I stood in front of his canvases for long periods of time, which isn’t something I generally do. The way he positioned the model in the space and the space around the model just blew me away. His use of blocks of colour and the mathematical completeness, the lines that could look like points of measurements which he forgot to remove, are in truth fundamental parts of the final composition. He was the very antithesis of what I encountered on my foundation course where intention was prized far higher than execution and ten years after my ignoble exit from formal art education, I felt in some ways validated by seeing the thing that makes art so important to me.

I use a lot of cameras which can only be described as shit if you just see them as cameras in terms of optics and mechanics and poor build quality. I use a lot of knackered stuff that people fish out of the backs of sofas or I get given because nobody would offer any real money for it. The thing is, I know and understand these cameras. I do not operate a suck it and see policy when I am making work. I decide to take a certain type of photograph for a particular purpose and take the camera best suited to the outcome because it measures up to what I want to produce. I know my cameras and films and other geegaws, like Uglow knew his paints and plumb-lines. I’m not like Uglow at all but his work has inspired me for many years.  If I think about it, it probably wouldn’t make any difference if he had painted cars, i would probably have liked them.  Nevertheless he painted nudes and I measure every other nude I see against him and they all come up wanting. And his processes and precision give me something to think about and aspire to.

The Diagonal

The Diagonal 1971-1977 oil on canvas 46 x 65 in

From this article:  http://paintingperceptions.com/euan-uglow/

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