Paint for Paint’s Sake: A Dual Review of Real Painting at Castlefield Gallery

Review: Castlefield Gallery exhibition – Real Painting by Rick Copsey and Beccy Kennedy, both Manchester School of Art.

  • Some thoughts by Rick Copsey (a ‘painter’ whose practice involves photographing paint) 

Real actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed (dictionary definition) – definitely

Painting – ?

Mostly wall based – but not all

Mostly paint – but not all

Mostly stretcher supported – but not all

Mostly coloured – but not all

Mostly imageless – but not all

Mostly material fact – but not all

Mostly non-illustionistic – but not all

Mostly non- readymade – but not all

Mostly hybrid – but not all

Real Painting is an exhibition of painting that is pushing boundaries (physically/conceptually), where arguably the greatest commonality, outside of the material fact of the paint/support, is a shared history in painting. At play here is a painter’s ‘sensibility’. In neuroarthistory (Onians & Fernie: 2008) terms, this ‘sensibility’ is the esult of years of exploring the terrain of painting – minds ‘wired’ to the experiences of doing and thinking about painting. This is what makes all this exhibition about painting. And a very engaging exhibition it is for painters and non painters alike.

Worth a visit – absolutely

For those in Manchester visiting Real Painting at Castlefield Gallery, you may want to cross the River Irwell to see Stuart Edmundson’s hybrid/expanded field painting solo exhibition at International 3. DJ Simpson (Real Painting exhibitor) also has a solo exhibition at Manchester’s OBJECT / A gallery.


Detail of Angela de la Cruz’s Battered 4 (Red), (2012) and Jo McGonigal’s Yellow Yellow, (2015), images by Beccy

  • Short essay-review by Beccy Kennedy (a ‘contemporary art historian’):

‘Even a single circle will warp the surface to it, will have a little space behind it.’ (Judd, 1965)

When does a painting become a sculpture or when it is just sculptural and when does a sculpture become a painting or when is it just painterly? We can discuss painting and sculpture, painting as sculpture, sculpture as painting, painting versus sculpture, painting = sculpture, or consider that there is no distinction between painting and sculpture. This is a perspective that isn’t new, through late Modernist to post-Modernist tropes around the formative, the concrete, the conceptual and the interactive, added to anthropological and new material cultural interpretations of art and objects, stretching beyond European pedagogies and cultural practices. Yet these questions of paint and figure, flatness and three dimensionality – contestable categories as sets of binary oppositions or frictions – may spring to mind when looking at the works on display at Castlefield Gallery’s Real Painting exhibition. The curatorial focus is not on the painting of a surface, but of paint on surfaces, or of painting as surface. Discussions (e.g. Ritchie), centuries old, and older than Leonardo, of the attributes of – and differences between – painting and sculpture, are, arguably, superseded, here (in this show). Other recent exhibitions have played with paint in relation to three dimensional form, such as Castlefield’s antecedent Darren Nixon launch pad exhibition and Jason Martin’s ‘Painting as Sculpture’ at Lisson Gallery, which also represents Real Painting’s Angela de La Cruz. However, in Real Painting we have the collective impact of (multifarious) approaches to paint in space.

The artists in this group exhibition navigate paint in order to draw attention to its materiality. It explores what paint can be. Sometimes it challenges us to think about what paint is like in relation to other materials by considering – how is this about paint? De Costa, an artist who often uses readymades and who is inspired by the organics of Neoconcretism, presents ‘Piece’, (2014) which looks and probably feels like a carpet, as it hangs from the wall. Is it the emperor’s new paint or does its shape resemble a splash of paint, or perhaps it is the fibres that have been painted? These fibres mimic the bristles of the brush that paints. We are encouraged to consider the piece’s phenomenological impact in relation to its journey of being made. Part of this making is dependent on what the paint does or how it takes part in the making itself as a non-human agent, as a ‘vital’ and ‘vibrant’ material (Bennett: 2010: viii).

In the case of pieces such as Alexis Harding’s Hood, (2012) – the paint drips, globules, crusts, splinters, peels and – as in many of them – dominates the surface of the canvas. In some artworks, like Angela de la Cruz’s Mini Nothing 9 (Pink), (2010), the canvas itself has been manipulated to corroborate the paint’s presence, which in this case is shiny and pink, crouching, or perhaps, collapsed, on the floor. It tempts us to crouch down ourselves to touch it, or to stamp on it – to try to physically and sensually engage ourselves with de la Cruz’s tacit knowledge of this paint on this cloth. In other artworks, such as Angela de la Cruz’s Battered 4 (Red), (2012) and (co-curator of Real Painting) Jo McGonigal’s Yellow Yellow, (2015), everyday and often junk-like objects appear to be saved from mundanity or waste via their painterly makeovers. The paint is present in the work and in the gallery, quite literally saying ‘I am here’ (where are you?) as in Finbar Ward’s half arrow shaped oil on board and linen, Rising Triangle (2014), that appears to point towards the gallery floor/s whilst spatially complimenting the small wall of a balcony alcove. It’s a flat looking semi chevron, navigating space. If it were a marble bust it would still be flat to touch. Both sit in their plot and consume a bit of our space. As Minimalist Judd said, ‘Three dimensions are real space….The several limits of painting are no longer present.’

 RealPainting_Courtesy Castlefield GalleryDeb Covell, Nowt to Summat, (2014), image courtesy of Castlefield Gallery

The artwork is always present in relation to its surroundings and to our perception of both. In co-curator and artist Deb Covell’s Nowt to Summat, (2014), the paint is the piece of work and it mimics a large piece of paper which has been unrolled from the ceiling to fold over the floor. The pure acrylic sheet really breaks the division between surface and (painterly) object. The Modernist quest is reconciled and condensed. Greenberg (1960) thought that Modern painting was progressive because it drew attention, assertively, to the flatness of the surface of the canvas; in this work, painting and surface are indistinguishable. Although it isn’t the first time paint has engulfed form, what Covell does is make the painted object into a subject within the gallery’s space. Suspended boldly from the ceiling of the main gallery, the acrylic paper defies a variety of physical borders simultaneously. It swoops vertically, white plane through white cube, spilling horizontally across white floor – orderly yet untamed paper refusing to be framed by painter, curator, audience, interior or discipline. Standing by it, it feels more intellectually rugged than a Minimalist sculpture, it’s not a readymade from any kind of decade, it’s too objectivist to be conceptual and too conjectural to be sculptural, perhaps.

11055372_10155713590060331_5592248988927377079_nFinbar Ward, Rising Triangle, 2014, image – Beccy

What all the artworks have in common is that they are without painted motifs, beyond abstraction and dependent on form as in format. Paint in an artwork is usually an index for depiction, whether of figurative narratives or of recognisable shapes. Here, the paint signifies itself – an empty referent, like half an arrow pointing to the floor. The obstinate materiality of the pieces dialectically draws attention to concepts of immateriality and flux in relation to both paint and ‘the artwork’. The ways in which artists practice with paint is exposed through the physical manifestations of the paint as it is seen here. Paint’s biology is fossilised, sometimes mid-movement. The audience is asked to process and interpret the processes of painter and paint, as it is now, as it has always been – a 3D substance in a 3D world (not to mention 4D). Collectively, the artworks’ intentions to emphasise the format and formation of paint feels feisty. It’s a fierce, focused and eloquent, curated experience. Paint demonstrates its real self.


Bennett, J. (2010) Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Duke University Press: Durham and London.

Greenberg, C. (1960) ‘Modernist Painting,’ available:

Judd, D., (1965) ‘Specific Objects’, Arts Yearbook 8, available:

Onians, Eric Fernie, E., see Interview – ‘Neuro ways of seeing: Neuroarthistory,’

Tate Etc. issue 13: Summer 2008,

Polanyi, M., (1966), The Tacit Dimension, University of Chicago Press: Chicago

A comprehensive, Formalist, mid 20thC discussion of sculpture can be seen in, Andrew C. Ritchie (Director of the Painting and Sculpture Department, MoMA from1949 to 1957), ‘Sculpture of the Twentieth Century’ The Art Institute of Chicago Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 1 (Feb. 1, 1953), pp. 1-10 and in his book of the same name.


Rick Copsey is a painter and a Senior Lecturer in the department of Art, teaching Fine Art and Contextualising Practice. He is Route Leader for the new BA in Fine Art and Art History – a degree which integrates art practice, history and theory.

Beccy Kennedy is a Senior Lecturer in the department of Art, teaching BA Art History, Art History & Curating and Contextualising Practice. She is Route Leader for the MAs in Contemporary Visual Culture and Design Cultures.

About Art Theory and Practice

BA Contemporary Art History Manchester School of Art

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: