Apr 19 2012: Painting Sunsets by Violet Parkhurst (Walter T Foster Publications, 1960s)

Although it’s something of a cliche to claim the general public neither understands nor likes conceptual art, or contemporary art that doesn’t show evidence of traditional skill, seeing such work as a species of charlatanry, I’m not sure the theory stands up when it’s examined in more detail. The guide to painting sunsets seen above is one of an extensive series produced during the 1960s and 70s. aimed at amateur and Sunday painters, covering every conceivable representational subject, from land and seascapes to flowers, people and still lives. Yet these don’t teach techniques of transferring observed reality to paper, canvas and board, but rather suggest techniques for creating facsimiles of observed reality in the medium of paint, charcoal and pastel: you too can create something that looks like a sunset without ever needing to look out of the window. It’s a very conceptual approach, removing the artist’s hand and emotional response from the equation of painting to produce potentially endless series of generic images, so it’s not entirely surprising that these painting systems have occasionally interested conceptual artists, the now discontinued joint practice of Bruce Ayling and Hannah Conroy among them. The Nottingham-based duo became fascinated by precisely this quality in the manufacturing system devised by American painter Bob Ross in a series of mountain landscapes made during 2007. The irony, perhaps, is that even as viewers might deplore conceptualism, that very conservatism can, as in these instructional brochures and the paintings that result from them, be highly conceptual in itself.


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