While humdrum artists peddle clichés, artists like Peter Liversidge reinvent them. With ‘Proposals for Cardiff’, showing at Chapter until the 11th of July, the Lincoln-born, London-based artist gives new meaning to the old notion that creativity (or success, or genius) is ‘10% inspiration, 90% perspiration’.
Chapter’s gallery space, still freshly refurbished after only a handful of exhibitions, has been given a complete overhaul for this show. Gone are the chipboard partition walls, and the large windows looking out onto Market Street have been filled in with pristine white plaster. A large cluster of oversized pretzel-trees, executed in American Walnut and stained matt black, dominate this open space. At the back of the gallery, the gloomy room where Helen Frik’s hand-made teddies recently massed has been replaced by a full-sized cinema, screening three films a day, free of charge. In the café, yards of white bunting have been strung up from the rafters and one wall has been painted dark grey. Both were overnight jobs, as my interpreter Lauren Jury recalls. Her account of the labour – very real, very physical – that underpins this show contrasts neatly with the work itself: devised over a period of just 24 hours in Liversidge’s customary style, which consists of the artist sitting at his kitchen table and banging out type-written ‘proposals’, a number of which are eventually realised, many of which are not – the pieces on show here are as lo-fi in concept as they are in form. A case in point is a wall drawing executed in 15 different colours of childrens’ coloured pencils, gradated up the wall in the order they were packed in the factory. This work is so subtle that it took the artist himself to point it out to me at the show’s opening, complete with an iPhone picture of himself wearing what looked like a biohazard suit, ostensibly to stop the dye from his jeans rubbing off on the sparkly-clean walls while he was executing the piece.
In case this image – the artist demanding that an entire gallery be re-configured, solely in order to accommodate his decidedly minimal interventions – screams ‘ego trip!’, allow me to state with no uncertainty that Peter Liversidge is, both as an artist and a person, about as self-effacing as it is possible for a jet-setting professional artist with a rapidly rising profile to be, perhaps more (one proposal featured in the publication ‘Proposals for Cardiff’ reads, simply, ‘I propose that you show me the way’). I interviewed Liversidge before his last show at Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh, during which time he spoke about how he had turned to art after flunking everything else, all the while cooking fish pie and peas for the gallery staff (an act of gratitude that was itself based on a type-written proposal). Jury maintains that Liversidge was a true pleasure to work with, and his free cinema, with a programme that ranges from Avatar to Synechdoche, New York, from Tractor Ted to Chinatown, and from Kes to The Exorcist – is hardly likely to lose him friends either. Embedded in the proposal for this installation was a clause relinquishing control of the selection process to his friends and family: Chapter curator Hannah Firth, along with Gordon Dalton and their daughter Nancy Dalton-Firth, have selected three films between them, as have the three daughters of Liversidge’s Edinburgh-based dealers, Florence and Richard Ingleby, as has the painter Howard Hodgkin.
In most other respects, Liversidge keeps a tight lid on his working process. What results, however, is not the obscurantism that one might expect: I wager that Liversidge’s work is accessible enough to melt the frostiest of contemporary art sceptics. Rather, the effect is one of – a word that Jury comes back repeatedly to throughout our brief conversation – precision. The forest of wooden trees, which cast delicate shadows onto the wall of the space; the two large, melancholy ‘Winter Drawings’, which act as an assertive echo to this play of light – all these pieces are calculated, measured, deeply considered along the lines of their effect and affect: pragmatic, in other words. Liversidge is a true minimalist because he is concerned with exhibiting at its most basic, material level; because his works are to be felt as lived, concrete experiences, not intellectualized as an unfolding of ellipses and allusions. At his last show, visitors could enjoy concerts by Retribution Gospel Choir and Balmorhea; this time they can watch The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and eat Lincolnshire Plum Bread. It’s perhaps a slightly glib conclusion but one I feel like making anyway – Peter Liversidge is re-inventing minimalism for the Relational Aesthetics generation.
Only, let me conclude properly with a word from the man himself. At the back of the main gallery space you’ll find two Polaroids of the same structure at South Beach, Miami. The relevant proposal explains how the artist took one exposure and waited for the image to develop before taking a second, almost-identical one. The second time I met Liversidge it was to interview him about the relevance of Polaroids in his artistic vision, and he left me with this golden quote, in which he asseses the difference between analogue and digital, but which seems to do a good job of explaining his work too, and what makes it so deeply likeable:
‘We’re drinking coffee right now. The smell of coffee and the taste of coffee are completely different. I suppose that Polaroids are like drinking coffee and digital is like smelling coffee. It’s recognisable but different, because it doesn’t give you that stimulation, doesn’t make you talk much quicker than you should because your heart is suddenly racing and you’re more receptive and your brain is firing in a different way because of this artificial stimulant…the smell is just a memory of that.’