Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Art Space Talk: The L.A. Stuckist Group

I recently interviewed members of the L.A. Stuckist group. The group, also known as LA Stuckistas, asked that members remain anonymous. This group stands in strict opposition to the current state of the 'art world elite'. They are actively working towards a "21st Century Renaissance".

Q. What can you tell our readers about the LA Stuckist group? What is the origin of the LA Stuckists?

A. "The L.A. Stuckist group is an association of arts professionals who promote and create art that is based upon a clear humanist vision with a commitment to artistic skill and craft. We extol painting as a primary art form, but wish to see all aesthetic disciplines imbued with a new constructive energy befitting artists moving into the 21st Century. Our vision is inclusive of many different artistic styles but in general we are realists when it comes to technique, temperament, and content of work. We are repulsed by the cold, cynical, anti-humanist "shock art" that has unfortunately become the status quo in the art world, however - ours is not an appeal for conservatism or a return to the past.

A confluence of events took place that inexorably lead to the formation of the Los Angeles Stuckist group. Historically, the moment had arrived for a movement of artists in opposition to the current state of the art world, and the internet not only made it possible for such an alliance to be visible, it provided the tools by which such an international phenomenon could "link up" with itself. Due to the internet, individuals in L.A. watched the movement develop across the globe, and our contacts with international Stuckist chapters helped provide incentive to start an L.A. circle.

The U.K. artist and co-founder of Stuckism, Charles Thomson, coined the term in 1999 as a retort to conceptualist artist Tracey Emin, who attempted to scold artist Billy Childish for being old fashioned in that he wanted to paint pictures - she accused him of being "stuck." Therefore, "Stuckism" is actually an insult worn as a badge of honor. The London Stuckists set the stage by calling for a "radical international art movement for new figurative painting with ideas." Those of us around the world who refuse to put down our paint brushes to take up video, installation and performance art, are "stuck" - and proudly so."

Q. Can you define the artistic revolution you would like to observe?

A. "While "Stuckist" has been the general term given to our new and amorphous movement, we think "Remodernist" is really a much more accurate and apt description. We call for the revitalization of the modernist project and its ideals - what we call, "Remodernism." We believe that modernism in fact never actually came to an end, rather it dissipated over time, losing its dynamism and sense of purpose. In actuality, what is perceived as "postmodern," is really nothing more than late modernism - collapsed and drained of spirit, principle and rationale.

Modernism has always been marked by its adherence to the ideals of science, truth, objectivity, progress, and rationality - while postmodernism argues that the enlightenment ideals of modernism are false constructs and do not exist at all. Naturally, out of such wildly differing philosophies there will arise extremely divergent cultural forms. We believe that postmodernism is the manifestation of a growing desolation of the human spirit, expressed aesthetically through its single-minded focus on a world devoid of meaning and verifiable truths. We take heart that the scientific community has always rejected the incapacitating extremism of postmodernist theory - and we feel it’s high time for the art world to also spurn the nihilism of postmodernist thought.

As already stated, Remodernism does not represent conservatism in art nor a desire to relive an earlier period. We are not interested in joining those who reject the excesses of contemporary art by flying headlong into the past. We have no interest in the restoration of a "golden age," the re-establishment of academic traditionalism, or the "saving" of Western art. Though there are essential lessons to be learned from the past, those histories cannot be mechanically applied or overlaid to our present circumstances. Failing to appreciate this fact is an impediment to artistic progress. Ateliers that offer traditional approaches to painting and drawing without first teaching that real life experience is the core of all authentic artistic expression, and that the artist must examine and respond to his or her own time - are part of the problem."

Q. Do you think a lot of artists today forget to develop their artistic method?

A. "An intrinsic part of our critique concerns the lowered standards of today’s working artists, an observable fact that ultimately must be attributed to the laziness of artists and those who make excuses for them. With the stranglehold abstract, minimalist and conceptual art has had upon the art world over the decades, artists have willfully abandoned traditional skills in favor of what has been considered "cutting edge." What’s worse, art schools have also discarded training in time honored methods, so the elementals of painting and drawing have practically been lost, a fact that can only be damaging to the world of art.

The fundamentals of painting are now considered to be esoteric knowledge, and so on a technical level we must start all over - which may not be such a bad thing. The artists of the 21st century will have to begin at ground zero, teaching themselves how to paint and draw once again - which hopefully will bring a fresh approach and renewed vigor.

Combine a near total loss of conventional skill sets with today’s postmodernist attitude of "anything can be art," and you have a real recipe for disaster. The most atrocious mediocrities and outright catastrophes are accepted as legitimate works of art these days. For some, ironic, ugly, incomprehensible and kitsch laden works may be enough - but Remodernists dare to advocate a new aesthetic based upon an appreciation for beauty, meaningful content, and the idea of technical virtuosity and craft."

Q. Many people feel that a lot of artists today practice the art of business rather than the art of creating art... would your members agree?

A. "A market economy judges success in terms of sales, and the market certainly rewards fashionable and trendy artists. The pressure to conform to this model is considerable and almost inescapable - but in our opinion it has little to do with art. Andy Warhol best expressed the venality of postmodernism when he said, "Making money is art and good business is the best art." While that is a dismal paradigm, it is the standard for today’s art world - but it is also an ideal Remodernists are interested in burying. An essential aspect of the Remodernist project is its advocacy that the "spiritual" be reintroduced into art. This does not mean the assertion of religious dogma, but the refocusing of art as the expression of the human heart. We would like to reinvigorate art with a sense of wonder, awe and mystery - the antithesis of the aloof and detached postmodern view."

Q. In your opinion, what is the downfall of conceptual art?

A. "Collectively, we understand all art to be conceptual, in that it’s all about communication. The artist tries to convey ideas, emotions, and concepts to the viewer. Every good painting or work of art begins as a conceptual work, and conceptualism has always been the touchstone for great art, so the problem is not in conceptualism as a modern discipline. We understand and appreciate the fact that conceptual art began as an attempt at resisting the commodification of art. Early conceptual artists were operating on a radical impulse - that of forging a new art practice that placed more importance on the creative process itself, rather than on a finished art object to be purchased. It was thought that by superceding objects and their being possessed, art would be freed from the constraints of the market - it would be returned to a pure and natural condition.

The crisis with today’s conceptual art is not just to be found in its lack of any meaningful concepts - but also in its dearth of artistic skill and vision. It has failed to live up to its name and has largely mutated into a formulaic genre that has been co-opted by the very forces it was meant to evade. What is worse, it has become the home turf to an isolated pseudo-intellectualism that holds the general public in utter contempt. The once radical impulse has degenerated into the conservative status quo. Conceptual art has become safe, non-threatening, and a major money maker for the new art elites."

Q. Why is your group anonymous? Do you use any 'tags' to identify yourselves?

A. "One must agree or disagree with the merits of an idea based on that idea’s worthiness - and not for the reason that you like or dislike the personalities of some of the idea’s adherents. We are not here to build careers or identities out of being "Stuckists." Since some detractors have made accusations that Stuckists are mere "publicity hounds," we thought that anonymity on our part would help ward off such claims.

We are mostly interested in the promulgation of Remodernist philosophy, and in large part we wish to provide a theoretical framework for the Remodernist project. We’re interested in cultivating new approaches in art criticism, research and study, methodologies that are capable of standing up to and cutting through the pretentiousness of postmodernist theory. At present all of that can be done without identifiable spokespersons.

We find great value in maintaining our status as an autonomous and unidentifiable online community of like-minded artists without hierarchal leadership. Perhaps as the group becomes larger and more influential this dynamic will change - but for the time being it suits us and our circumstances well."

Q. Do you keep in close contact with any other Stuckist groups?

A. "Understandably, we initially had the most contact with the founding London circle of Stuckists, but since the establishment of the Stuck In L.A. website (, we’ve been corresponding with like-minded artists across the United States. We encourage communication with all other groups and individuals interested in Remodernism."

Q. How has society influenced LA Stuckist art? Are there any social implications in the art your members create?

A. "You can’t be an artist in Los Angeles without being influenced, consciously or not - by the life, contradictions, beauty, ugliness and artifice of this place. While each city in the world offers its own unique reality, Angelinos have a certain understanding of their metropolis as an especially incomparable place. Hollywood is the lurid dream machine at the end of the earth, and you might say that we have an undue influence upon world culture. Of course there will be social implications in our action, or inaction, as artists, that is in part what makes being in Los Angeles so exciting, the sense that the choices made here could eventually have broad repercussions. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, as Remodernism represents a way of viewing the world that runs counter to the rampant crass commercialism epitomized by a city like L.A."

Q. What art movements have influenced the LA Stuckists as a group?

A. "Members of the group bring wildly divergent influences to the L.A. circle, and as painters we have the entire history of painting to draw inspiration from. The L.A. circle has no unified list of influences, since we are made up of disparate individuals. Our only cohesive view is an appreciation for craft and content, coupled with an understanding that today’s painting - or any Remodernist artistic endeavor - must be a wholly contemporary practice relevant to the here and now. That being said, members have an affinity for a wide range of schools, from the Old Masters, Pre-Raphaelites and Impressionists, to the Expressionists, Abstractionists and Photorealists.

Being L.A. artists, we are acutely aware of, and have been influenced by, the art and artists of this particular place. You could also call us California artists, as we have the sensibilities of those from our state with its incredibly rich and unique artistic heritage that dates back centuries. From the designs of Native Americans who lived here for millennia, to the art of the Spanish colonizers who arrived in 1769; from the aesthetics of the Mexicans - who made California part of their nation in 1821, to the uninterrupted flow of immigrants from across the nation and around the world after the U.S. made California a state in 1850 - all of this cross-cultural fertilization serves as the distinctive foundation upon which you can layer successive waves of bone-fide California art movements.

Artists from California have made unrivaled contributions to the world of art, from our school of Impressionism to the state’s world renowned Plein Air painters. Of course there is the matchless California Modernist school from the 1930’s and 40’s from which we take great inspiration. Those modernists were inextricably linked to the Mexican Muralist School of artists, which in turn served as the precursor for L.A.’s Chicano arts movement - which in itself has a tradition of figurative realism that we admire."

Q. Where can we see more examples of LA Stuckist art?

A. "Examples of Remodernist art can be found everywhere in Los Angeles, it’s just that people have not thus far identified or recognized these works as belonging to a particular school or genre of art. There are many artists in L.A. who are in reality, Stuckists - they just don’t know it yet. In essence, anyone who defies the fashions of the postmodern academy to paint, draw, or sculpt in a realistic manner - is on the road to becoming a practicing Remodernist. We sincerely mean this, and would include amateurs as well as professional artists in this category. Amateur painters have not been tainted by the terminal careerism and deadly pessimism of the professional strata, and amateurs are quite passionate about art and its role in society. Those who are educated and manicured by the postmodernist art establishment are by and large not capable of affecting revolutionary change.

The possibilities for Remodernist aesthetics in painting and other visual art disciplines are too numerous to enumerate. We have the entire history of realism in art to cull inspiration from, we ask simply that artists imagine - for it’s only in the dreaming that a comprehensive Remodernist aesthetic for today can be forged. To be honest, we hesitate to point out concrete exemplars of Stuckist painting, because we don’t want to place any limitations on the potential growth of Remodernism. It is a mistake to look at the artworks generated by the London Stuckists, and draw the conclusion that their works epitomize the totality of the movement. In the period to come there will be an explosion of Remodernist artworks, but our first concern is to help construct the theoretical foundations that can make such an eruption possible."

Q. What can you tell our readers about the LA art scene?

A. "Los Angeles is a vast and seemingly endless city, so it’s realistic to expect its arts community to match such boundless diversity. However, when it comes to the visual arts, things are restricted in startling and sometimes shocking ways. A multiplicity of ethnicities call L.A. home, but it’s astonishing how few of them have been represented in the city’s mainstream cultural life. A new awareness of this has been transforming the city’s reality in the last few decades, but change comes slowly. Still, with its huge and diverse population, unique history and position on the Pacific rim, Los Angeles has become an important city for the setting and proliferation of significant trends in art and culture. We thought it was extremely important to establish a Stuckist circle in L.A., because once something catches on in this city it soon takes root across the nation."

Q. How can people join the LA Stuckist group? Or is the group 'closed'?

A. "The only prerequisite for involvement with the L.A. Stuckist group is general agreement with the ideals of the Remodernist project. Artists have sent us their web site addresses, and we’ve placed those links on our website. We also encourage all sympathizers - painters, sculptures, writers, photographers, film-makers, students, intellectuals, to submit articles and essays for publication to our web site and blog - with the only stipulation being that the editorial thrust of the writing helps to develop and expand the Remodernist project. We wish to facilitate an open dialog with all artists and cultivate working relationships with like-minded associates and supporters."

Q. Since your group is anonymous it would seem hard to accept new members. Is there a great deal of trust between members?

A. "Trust is based upon adherence to Remodernist vision and principles. So far the L.A. Stuckists are a loosely mixed group, a more or less fluid online community established along the lines of the non-hierarchical and anonymous groupings to be found spread across the internet. Inclusion in the group is open but predicated upon talent and commitment to promoting the movement."

Q. Do you think the ideas behind Stuckism will continue to expand?

A. "We see Remodernism as the opening salvo of a movement that has yet to truly arrive. The Remodernist ideal goes far beyond just the restoration of painting - it has to do with the rejection of the negativist postmodern condition and the reclamation of the human spirit, so it affects literature, cinema, music, photography and all other creative disciplines - not to mention societal, civic and political spheres. We are acutely aware of Remodernism as part of a historic process - it is a response to a set of existing material conditions, such as the impact of technology, globalization and the commodification and marginalization of culture. As it continues to confront the postmodernist establishment, "Stuckism" will most likely evolve in some very interesting ways, which no doubt will include a metamorphosis beyond its present characteristics. Every new idea requires time to become established, and we are more than confident that Remodernism will continue to expand and take root across the U.S. and the globe."

Q. Is there anything else you would like to say about the LA Stuckist group or the 'art world'?

A. "Those tied to the official art world have pontificated upon the current epoch being one characterized by the supposed "end of art movements," a ridiculous supposition that echoes the equally inane, and thoroughly discredited neoconservative belief that we’ve reached the "end of history." Remodernism is not only the first art movement for the 21st Century - it is the only one that is going to matter for a long time to come. Movements begin when dissatisfied individuals band together and begin to act in unison to alter something considered unacceptable. The formation of the L.A. Stuckist group follows that template.

It’s time once again for another Salon des Refusés, or Salon of the Rejected. When the emerging Realist and Impressionist artists of the 1860s submitted their paintings to the Salon de Paris run by the French Académie des Beaux-Arts, they were rejected out of hand. The entrenched conservatives of the Academy simply could not, or would not, recognize the gifted young painters as the future of art. Today’s ostensibly immovable status quo in the art world ignores virtually anything outside the clichés of postmodernism - but it is the rejected who will have the final word!"

I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with the LA Stuckistas group. Feel free to respond to their views.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

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