The Amy Dury and Philip Maltman Exhibition is a tour of personal narratives in the form of paint on canvas, board and paper. The artists act as unreliable mediators between their subjects and the viewer, choosing where to omit and where to add details.
The exhibition is currently on at our Soho gallery and runs until 5th November. You can book your visit to the exhibition here.
Ahead of the exhibition, our curator Phin Jennings sat down with Amy Dury and Philip Maltman to discuss the works on show in the exhibition. Together in Philip's garden, the three talked about the act of painting, the influence of music and literature, and the role that nostalgia plays in their work.
PJ: So, welcome first of all Philip and Amy. Thank you so much for joining me.I wanted to start with was two quotes, one from Cy Twombly and one from you Amy. Cy Twombly, a great influence on yourself Philip, "When something hits me, or I see a painting, or when I see something in nature, it gives me a thing and I go for it. But I don't care if I don't go three or four months, you know when it comes, it comes."
In a similar vein Amy, I know that you often work from archive video footage and you troll the internet for imagery. You’ve said that you don't always know what the story is, but that you trust your instinct. The first question I wanted to ask both of you, perhaps you first Amy, has to do with your subjects and how you find them first of all and then when you do find them, how do you know that you’ve found them?
AD: I like to liken it to a similar feeling of falling in love. You see something and it's directly there, it's you, that one, I know I can paint it, I know it's the right thing. I might see quite a lot of images but it will become obvious which ones are the right ones.
But in the same way that we choose partners and how we fall in love, you can't always trust what your motivations are behind that. So it's always interesting to see what comes out and it's often after the paintings are finished that I'll start to piece together what is happening in that image that's interesting or why I might have chosen that.
Very often it's about relationships in family groups or social groups that I just find interesting because it speaks a lot about people's roles in society or how they fit into family groups in Britain in the 20th and 21st century. These sorts of things can come out from the combination of the image the way I've selected it, - I may also drop it in Photoshop and edit it - and then I add in the colour and the texture and the paintwork.
PJ: With your work Philip, your points of reference and your subjects are somewhat more scattered, and anything is up for grabs. How do you find your subjects, and then when you do, how do you know that you've found something that's going to become a series or a painting?
PM: It's a bit like with the Twombly quote, because when a thing hits you, it means you see something which is interesting enough to want to manipulate the image with pain. I've worked from literature a lot and it's not a matter of illustration, I've worked from James Joyce and people have suggested that that's not necessarily an area where you can find lots of imagery. I have to do disagree with that completely because Joyce is full of wonderful imagery through poetry, and poetry is something I can utilise.
With a quote, I will tend to write it on a painting, so that it's not a question of having to extract something from the quote, it's a matter of doing something with the pain and then the quote has to be there because it's part of it.
PJ: In this exhibition, we’re showing eight of your works, Philip, from your Sonic Youth series, which are named after and broadly inspired by different songs by the band Sonic Youth. Of these paintings, you said, "the paintings become about the painting and not the songs." What do you mean by this?
PM: There was never a decision to put Sonic Youth on and see what happens. I decided that Sonic Youth was kind of a powerful enough phenomenon in my orbit that I should put something down, and that that something was going to be the name, and I like the name. I didn't necessarily want to use the whole thing, so very often it tails off so it's ‘sonic y’, ‘sonic yo’, ‘sonic youth’.
There was an interesting little Cy Twombly thing in the sense that the end of sonic is 'c' and the beginning of youth is 'y', which I even underline from time to time. So that's perhaps the start of what's going on; there's something about the words Sonic Youth, there's something about Cy Twombly, and it's got very little to do directly with Sonic Youth or with the songs, certainly not with the songs as it's not illustrated. It’s a weird thing, you're illustrating something in a way, but it's not classic illustration, and obviously it becomes something almost abstract.
It all comes originally from a quote by Robert Motherwell about scanning things externally and internally, in which the subject, in the end, is not the world outside, but the painting itself. I've always gone with that quote, maybe more than anything, even from Cy Twombly.
PJ: Amy, you're also an artist who is you know largely inspired by music and a lot of your artworks are named after songs or lyrics from songs. What do you make of this idea that a painting can be of a song as it were, or related to a song in some way, but really be much more inward-looking and outward-looking and trying to just solely represent music?
AD: The song title usually comes afterwards. It’s different from Philip as the painting isn’t necessarily inspired by the song, but makes sense of it. I find the lyric or the song title and I steal someone else's idea that fits mine. So it's not quite directly related to music, the titles come afterwards. The title can give you a completely different access to help them to interpret it.
PM: Fromm my point, in relation to that, the titles and the use of words is a kind of confusing factor and I quite like the idea that I can throw that into the mix and that what comes out of it, you don't know exactly what the view of the observer is going to see or how they're going to interpret those words. So it becomes an object, which is limitless in terms of your involvement with it.
AD: I’m really interested in the way you have writing in your paintings because I love that, I think it's so bold to do that, and it's such a risky move because in a way you are telling people something. How do you balance that?
PM: Well, the thing is I'd like to do more, and if I cast my mind right back to when I was at art school, I I tried to be as much of a rebel as I could and I wrote all over the canvases. I mean I literally wrote poetry and then I would just write it on with a black felt marker on the white canvas. In a way I want to go back around to that, so what I'm doing is quite restrained in a strange way. I'm not necessarily boldly making a statement. And in the sense when you use a title from something or a line from a book, I think I'm really making a statement.
PJ: I find that with your work Amy, as you say, that the idea that it furnishes the viewer with something extra to look at alongside the painting and one of your works is called Father, as in farther away, but I've been writing it all of my notes as someone’s father and maybe sub-consciously it brings so much more to a work. Sometimes it can make you more creative in the way you interpret it by giving you a sense of direction.
AD: I'd much prefer to have an interesting one word to describe the painting that makes people think a little bit then have to write a description of what the painting is about, to me that's so much more difficult and I want to do that anyway because I love people telling me what they see and what they get from me. For that painting in particular, I borrowed the idea from the Ken Kesey bus that said further on the front but this is farther, and it was a man that was holding a boy's hand. It’s to do with masculinity and relationships between men and it was taken from a 60s festival, so linked to all those themes.
PJ: When I walk around this exhibition I see how both of your works differ formally, in the style and often in subject matter, but across the whole show there’s a sense of nostalgia and yearning, and a kind of grasping at trying to capture moments and impressions from the past.
Amy, I know your work, a lot of it comes from archived home video footage and this idea of turning that into a 3D physical object that will endure and end up in someone's home or the museum or an art collection, making material these fleeting moments from the past that might otherwise be forgotten about.
AD: I think definitely there is a nostalgic element, although I'm very suspicious of nostalgia as we should be and that hopefully comes across in some of my paintings. Usually, people take home movies when there's something wonderful happening, a celebration, they're on holiday, it's something lovely. So on the surface, it's a wonderful nostalgic feeling looking at these things and you feel very warm and fuzzy. But I suppose, a lot of the time when I'm selecting these screenshots, which is the best I can do without having been there and taken the photo myself, at least I'm selecting a frame that nobody else has selected. The other side of nostalgia is that you don't know the whole story about these people, and from the choices I make from the stills that I find, I hope to tell a story that's sometimes a little bit darker, sometimes a little bit more interesting in terms of the relationships between people and the roles that they're playing in their scenario. Whether they're in a family group or with a scout group or in a beauty parade if you look at them out of context and you combine that with colour and texture and energy in paint you can tell a different story.
PJ: For a lot of your works, the source imagery comes from the sixties and seventies which we think of as a time of optimism and now you're painting them from the present day when things perhaps aren't the way that people expected things, that your characters expected things to turn out, so I suppose that's another element of how this nostalgia has a bit of a south twist or a harsh edge.
AD: It's a recent history that I just missed, I grew up in the seventies and I have rose-tinted glasses about that. But it's true, in the seventies we didn't really know about climate change and these heavy worries we now have, so when you do put look back at photographs of those times and you see people very happy and you just think, you didn't know and that was nice.
PJ: Philip I know that nostalgia or some sense of trying to capture the past figures into your practice as well and on show in this exhibition. We have nine paintings from your Capriccio series whereby you paint the same kind of detail from an Italian painting I believe.
PM: Originally, I was looking to find some sort of classical ruins, or paintings of classical ruins because I've been looking at Palmyra, especially after the destruction of the monuments and I've wanted to find how people have dealt with that in the past.
I found a painting of a capriccio with classical ruins which was the Pyramid of Cestius, so it seems like an awful lot going on in the classical ruins but the one thing that impressed me more than anything else was the pyramid and it was a broken old pyramid. Why that came to me was such power, I don't know. It's one of those things that really did hit me.
The Capriccio paintings in this exhibition are paired down to being the pyramid, a sort of improvisation of that pyramid over a period of time. So in the sense, I'm not actually releasing anything about the past, it's being released and it's being released to me as this particular shape. I like for things like that to come out of any paintings that I might be basing the work on. I take something out of it and bring it into the present and make it something different, which I think is a bit like Amy’s work in the sense that there are things coming from the past and then being made present by changing it and improvising this kind of way.
AD: I think it's always important to have whatever it is that I know I'm using imagery from the past but, obviously I hope that it's a very contemporary issue. I really enjoy hearing the way you work Philip, it gives me ideas as well about possibly being able to have a subject matter until I have something in a painting, and what would happen if I repeated it and made a sequence of work to work from. That's a really interesting idea.
PM: I remember talking about it with an artist and he said you just do it, and you do it and you keep on doing it. And that's stuck with me, not in the sense that I have to do a series every time, but there is a desire to certainly do more than one, once making this complete, it's got to be tried again.
PJ: At the core of my experience with both of your paintings in this show is this idea that, Philip, you've got a kind of wildly inaccurate approach, a snippet of a world map and we've got these capriccios, and for you, Amy, the faces of your characters are somewhat distorted and the colorus aren't the same as they were before, and it seems clear to me that you're not trying to represent objects as they are in the world and you're not trying to represent the world as it really is, that's not your job as it were. Maybe it’s the job of an illustrator or maybe it was once the job of painters and artists, but what you're doing is something distinct from that. It's a difficult point to end on, but I was wondering of either of you have an idea of what your ‘job’ is, if not to represent these things that they really are.
PM: I made a statement at one time about my experience of the world and my enjoyment of the world in the sense that I'm trying to convey that experience and that enjoyment of the world. And in a sentence, it's no more than that because whether we're going to any one painting, or whether it's a Sonic Youth painting, or you've got words in your personal fragmental religion, it doesn't really matter, because the enjoyment of that for me is the experience of creating that painting can perhaps be conveying. I suppose that's what a job is, it's to make that communication.
PJ: And in that respect, I suppose what isn't your job is to worry about having some kind of overarching theme or a thread or project that runs through it because the subject of your work is your experience of the world and your enjoyment of the world and that's something that is, by nature, intensely personal and very situated.
PM: Yeah and using the word job is kind of unusual in the sense that, it's a job to make a painting and it doesn't build beyond that, except if you are producing something which is an image which in essence what you would want to exhibit it.
AD: You use the word experience and that's really resonating with me, you are coming to this job with your own particular set of experiences. And for me I think it's still very much an issue of permission, I'm really just emerging through giving you permission to count your experience as valid and therefore that is the thing that comes through in your paintings, and I can see it's a really interesting journey that goes beyond the painting of how to communicate your experience.
In the truest possible way, the work is about you and it is always about you, and it always was about you. Tracy Emin, I suppose is the classic example of being able to be very direct with her experience as her art form. But then there are artists like Paula Rego, who's slightly more convoluted but still, it's all about her life and what's going on with her.
PJ: I suppose, like you said earlier it was you who chose the freeze frame and it was you chose how to render that and, I think you'll forgive me say it's not a faithful rendering of the image, you do things to it and that's I suppose, to some degree where your identity comes out and where it can be quite bearing and very personal.
AD: It's always very very interesting and it's getting more interesting as all these things are being revealed as I get more interested in painting and doing my own work and finding out why I'm painting. It gets more apparent its about me and my thoughts and I didn't realise I had that opinion or that feeling about that issue and I'm realising I do have those feelings through my painting. And as we paint we have more experience to draw on, so the work and the process becomes more and more exciting.