by The Bogside Artists
The abstract notion of society, much touted
by politicians, is, of course, a shibboleth. Society is
the sum total of human relationships especially those
we designate as "role-playing". Man is a social
being and his life is by definition contextual. How he
relates to himself, his work, his friends, his past, his
present, his future, his family and the world in general
determines his life and defines him. From the wastelands
of the social pariah to the media touted pillar
of the establishment is a broad spectrum indeed.
It is a spectrum explored by satirists in general and
by many of the major playwrights. Becketts Waiting
for Godot, for example, is essentially an expose
of the craziness of man as a social being. The theatre
deals expressly with all aspects of social relationships.
Is theatrical expression political? How can it not?
Painting deals with context quite consciously. Context
is as much a theme of Manets Dejeuner Sur
Lherbe as it is of Beckett's En Attendant
Godot. It is as much exemplified in Picasso's Guernica
as it is in the work of Magritte and De Chirico. All art
is social. All art is therefore political in essence.
Whether it becomes overtly political or covertly political
has as much to do with context, as it has to do with the
artist himself. A portrait of Hitler would be a revered
object in a Neo-Nazi's lair but in a Jewish synagogue
it would be something else entirely, if indeed it managed
to hang there for more than ten seconds. Just as a man
can attain immediate notoriety by streaking in the wrong
place at the right time so careerists in the art world
manipulate context in order to win maximum attention for
themselves. Advertisers too like Benetton have not been
slow to learn the trick. Therefore, to label certain artists
as 'political' is simply to say they are 'overtly' political
in the same way as a pickpocket is conspicuously a thief
while the retailer who overcharges for his merchandise
is merely a 'respected businessman'. Both are playing
the same game. The word is not the thing.
How we relate to things will have a lot to say about the
choices we make. After all, bigotry itself and its extreme
manifestation racism, is at heart a relationship problem.
The antithesis of the ugly and the beautiful is primarily
a contextual problem whose parameters are always shifting.
Consequently, modern art critics, bereft of any normative
frame of reference in our time are all at sea as to what
constitutes good art and what bad.
Wily businessmen like Saatchi and Saatchi and unscrupulous
curators everywhere are ever ready to capitalize on their
ignorance and on the befuddlement of the public in general.
Since the scandalous arrival of Duchamps
urinal the use of context has become a favorite weapon
in the artists armatorium. From that point of view
there is really nothing new about Hirsts work. Surrealism,
as a movement outside of its psychological pretensions,
was pragmatically an investigation into context. In the
era of New Age thinking, of course, and technological
advancement all this seems like old hat these
days but in their time these cultural statements were
radical in the extreme.
In the case of The Bogside Artists the context was given.
We were born into it. The site we chose to paint our murals,
The Bogside, was a familiar part of our habitat. It was
a daily fact of our existence, where we had lived and
played, our history. It was drenched in blood. This by
itself would, paradoxically and despite the blunderbuss
abuse of our critics, make our work very reflective of
where modern art is headed at the moment. For, it has
long been an embarrassing fact to many curators that the
gallery itself provides a false context for the viewing
of art. The gallery in effect becomes a mediator between
the viewer for whom the work was made and the artist himself.
This leads to a reification of the work and a corresponding
alienation of the work, the artist and his public. Art
galleries therefore look wistfully at community art and
the work of muralists like ourselves. They establish 'Outreach
Programs' in the hope of redressing the balance. Performance
artists, let us not forget, came into being explicitly
to fill this gap.
With public art the modus operandi of the careerist artist
whose will is to challenge the viewer on the presupposition
that the viewer is actually blind and stupid, would nakedly
contradict the context in which the mural artist seeks
to live. The muralist's first remit is to communicate;
else he would not have chosen a public site in the first
place. He is willingly addressing public context, public
mind, public belief, public perceptions in all their variety
and contradictions. He is not appealing to the dilettante
or the culture vulture. He is a rebel, painting with passion
because he knows that true art is poetry and poetry is
not the proper arena for careerism, which rightfully belongs
to the market place and its chicanery. He is appealing,
first and foremost, to the man in the street, on the assumption
that the man in the street is not completely blind and
no crazier than the artists who address him. This is the
context in which the muralist places himself. It can be
thin ice to walk upon, as the experiences of The Bogside
Artists will readily testify; because it involves the
whole social context. There are political currents to
avoid and tribal rapids to negotiate. We seek to honor
the context we have been given; not to abuse it in the
name of an infantile delusion of license masquerading
as 'freedom' which alone characterizes much of what passes
for so-called 'contemporary art'.
About the Author
William Kelly is one of The Bogside Artists. He is author
of Murals. More info about the artists can be got at;