Nottingham Trent University
East Midlands

When I visited the Nottingham Castle Open 2012, I was intending to see Alex Pain’s work as I saw a film of his work and was interested, I did not think that I would stumble across a piece which took my inspiration and shook it all up. When entering the Castle you are greeted with a huge old museum followed by a staircase. Whilst I was admiring the old grand staircase, I thought to myself is there really going to be contemporary art within this building? However I soon realised when entering the exhibition it was like any other contemporary art gallery, a bright lighted white cube gallery.

As I slowly walked around, I started to notice the noise from my shoes echoing the empty room, this didn’t help me as I became extremely conscious of being watched and judged by the invigilator whilst I stood staring at the art piece by piece, becoming more uncomfortable. When I examined the room I saw art which I recognised from last year’s Trent graduates, which I still did not fully understand. After being very aware of my presence, finally a piece by Shaun Belcher took my sight as I scanned around the room. It was four white squared canvases, all the size of 50cm x50cm set up equally with two above and two below. When looking at the art work I immediately felt at ease, I think it was a mixture of the work but also as it was in a corner making me forget that I was being stared at. On all the canvases there was text made from a black marker pen, with three having some kind of square drawn round the text and the other with a doodle of a spider and a strange looking butterfly appearing from the bottom of the canvas. The statements were direct and to the point as they were Belcher’s observations of the art world, I think this is why Belcher used only black and white to make the idea sharp with no connotations. When reading each statement on the canvases it made me laugh as I can relate to each statement as I have experienced the same anxieties when producing art myself.

I became fond of the honesty within the work and enjoyed that the pieces were a bit controversial as it mocks the art world. Belcher takes a risk as the main audience would be artists themselves and might strongly disagree with the statements. One of the pieces said “art spider says… if at first you don’t succeed… give up you don’t know the right people” which is quite ironic because it’s clear that Belcher does know the “right people” as his work is in a successful exhibition. I felt that the pieces demonstrate Belcher’s doubt within the art world yet he still is a part of it, which makes his statement contradicting. He also brings humour into his work which I feel is to cover up his anxieties and to not offend his colleagues.

In my research of Belcher, I discovered that originally after leaving art school he wanted to be a serious painter then his work progressed into painting and drawing but after twenty years trying to make it big in London, he decided to give up and moved back home to Oxfordshire. This is where he started to draw a series of cartoon-like drawings which vented his frustrations in the art world. After learning this, it seemed to me that Belcher resorts to cartoons and humour when he feels that something has gone wrong or he feels pressured. As cartoons aren’t seen as serious and normally are joined with humour he brings these two elements together to express his fuel of anger for the art world acting like a defence mechanism.

As well as producing cartoon-like drawing and paintings, Belcher is a poet, a sing-a song writer and a researcher into art education which I imagine as a whole helps Belcher to generate art work by fuelling the frustrations within the art world. With a background in literature as a poet, I expect this helps a great deal when thinking of the statement within the art work.

When analysing each statement I felt that there was a slight difference within the bottom right canvas, as the others teased the art world but I felt that this one was mocking society’s behaviour towards modern technology. I feel Belcher could have used another piece which was more linked to the other three, or he could have just used three and laid them out equally in a line.

Firstly when seeing Belcher’s work I automatically thought of David Shrigley as they both use the same style to portray their ideas but they both use humour within their work, Belcher expresses his love for Shrigley but confessed that he did not know of Shrigley’s work before producing the cartoon-like drawings. Then after reflecting on Belcher’s work is similar to Dan Perjovschi’s work as it is cartoon-like but also has a hint of humour to his work; however Perjovschi in my opinion touches on more global political issues than Belcher.

From my research it comes across that even now Belcher feels bitter against the art world as he didn’t hit the big time and that he still considers painting his real medium rather the cartoon drawings which he has excelled in more. Within an interview with Ian Jones from Left Lion, when asked “What area of the arts do you work in?” belcher replies “I paint, write, sing and scribble.” (Belcher,2012)

Before visiting the exhibition I felt that I was struggling with the art world and stressing if I fit in or if I am making the right type of art but Belcher made me examine my own work and made me realise that in anything there are different kinds of people and that it is ok if I don’t understand or that I do not like an artist as there is a space in the art world for me, which made me relax into my own practice.

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