SOTP: Thank you for taking time out to be the second subject of SOTP. The intention is for the structure of the interviews to keep to a fairly consistent pattern of questioning, so that over the course of the year similarities and differences of practice and thinking can be compared.
So first off…what are the critical debates in contemporary art just now that you can relate to as a painter? Or, are there other more important questions/ debates taking place nationally or globally that you feel more responsive to?
TS: The issues I’m concerned with are global such as pollution and waste recycling, and taking a stance- questioning what is deemed to be good and bad taste.
SOTP: Around 2003 you made a body of work about skateboarders, which appeared to be a radical departure from your long-term commitment to the subject of landscape that is perhaps most commonly associated with you. Could you say something about the detour you took within that body of work?
TS: Every so often I step away from my main subject. I have made series of paintings about an inter-cultural dance project, the Greenham Common women’s protest camp as well as skateboarders. All of these disturb society’s notion of everyday order and good taste.
SOTP: You have always been a painter fully engaged with fresh approaches to materials and surfaces, continually testing the possibilities of extending the ‘mixed media’ potential of painting practice. This question of the limits to a picture’s construction might be traced back to the 1950s through Burri and Tapies in Europe, and through Johns and Rauschenberg in America. In the 1980s Kiefer and Schnabel appeared to be extending this ‘tradition’, although some would say in an overtly bombastic manner.
What are the limitations you have perceived in ‘flat’ painting mediums, that propelled you to work in the manner you have over the years?
TS: I move beyond flat painting, and its prescribed boundaries. I involve myself with opposites; real/ unreal illusion; tactile surfaces; challenging whatever boundaries are associated with painting.
SOTP: Do you feel connected to one particular strand/ movement in Painting? Do you have a sense of belonging to something from Art’s past or present history?
TS: Not really, I have many influences. I distrust categorisation and labels.
SOTP: Has there been one stand-out encounter you have had away from the studio- it could be anything, a scene from a movie, a poem or the way a billboard has looked- that has made you think: “That’s what I’m doing in my painting.” ?
TS: The Greenham Common women’s protest camp and how the women’s movement perseveres in challenging discrimination.
SOTP: Whose paintings do you love looking at, now or from the past?
TS: I look at many paintings and sculptures: ancient and modern; western, eastern, African art; outsider and amateur art; children’s art. I am interested in and give attention to all art. Obviously some artists have influenced me as much for their daring to move away from the accepted form of the times as to what they produced such as Pollock, Turner, Grunewald, Picasso, Van Gogh and many others.
SOTP: Finally, your involvement and leadership in Fine Art education, notably at Cardiff Art College (now University of Wales Institute) from 1964 to 2001, gives you huge experience in having navigated the waters around Painting as an ‘academic’ field of study. You have also been External Examiner at The Slade, Chelsea and Reading. What are the possibilities and benefits you perceive for today’s Painting students at Degree level and beyond? Are there still good reasons for young and aspiring painters to want to go to art college?
TS: There is always a benefit for the serious student in going to an art college. As in all higher education students have the opportunity to grow and develop individually whatever the nature of a college or course. Art colleges are as much a seat of thinking as any university. Unfortunately governments are less supportive of art study than other subject study and I think here in the UK there has developed a visual ignorance on one hand, and a misconception that art is for financial investment on the other. The more this can be dispelled, the better will be the opportunities and respect for artists.
Terry Setch RA was born and studied in London, before moving to Wales where he taught at Cardiff Art College (University of Wales Institute). He has continued his practice from Penarth near Cardiff.
Represented by Michael Richardson’s Art Space Gallery in London, a major monograph on the artist was published by Lund Humphries in 2009: ‘Terry Setch’ by Martin Holman.
He was elected as a member of the Royal Academy in London in 2009.
Forthcoming exhibitions (all 2011):
New Display, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff
Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, London
Terry Setch, Art Central, Barry, South Wales