Tag Archives: Mark Fairnington

Mark Fairnington Interviewed in Studio International

CCW Reader Mark Fairnington has been interviewed in Studio International by Janet McKenzie. It was published in June 2015.

Speakinig about his work, Fairnington said, ‘Researching natural history collections has been important for my work, collections started from the thousands of specimens that were brought back from the first voyages of discovery. One focus of my work is the line that can be traced between observation and speculation: the fictions that build up around facts in the natural sciences.

One example of this is the origin of the name “birds of paradise”. It was in 1522 when Europeans saw the first specimens, skins that had been prepared for trade by having their legs removed by the native Papuans, sometimes along with the wings and heads. They wondered how these birds could exist without wings or feet, and believed that they must have lived their entire lives in the air, that they were birds of Paradise.

The imagined life cycle of these birds, although based on the study of specimens, seems to represent a desire on the part of the observers. Stories like these are important representations of our changing relationships with the natural world. While they may be described as footnotes in the history of science, their narrative power persists.

Painting can create spaces in which the meaning of the image is continually renegotiated, and this is the point at which the work may relate to surrealism – a very deadpan, English, surrealism where a sense of the uncanny lies almost dormant.’

The full article can be accessed online.

Top image: Anna-lena, oil on panel, 7cm diameter

MPhil/PhD Intensive Week

In mid-November CCW Graduate School held its second annual MPhil/PhD Intensive Week, a programme of research workshops. The week focuses on practice and aims to introduce students to the particular expertise and experience of members of CCW’s research staff. The week includes four workshops, each looking at the spaces and domains of research in art and design under the headings of Studio (Mark Fairnington), Viva (Paul Coldwell), Social Space (Marsha Bradfield) and Text and Practice (Jo Melvin).

‘The viva represents the culmination of the years of study towards a research degree and the student’s “appointment with destiny”, whereby the claims and arguments posited in the thesis can be tested,’ said Coldwell. ‘In many ways the viva is such a unique event that no amount of preparation can cover every eventuality, but a clear understanding of the process and the roles of everyone involved certainly helps. By understanding what purpose the viva serves, the student can hopefully enter into the process and enjoy the experience. After all, the whole focus of the viva is on the student’s research, and the opportunity to discuss or even “lock horns” with senior academics in the field should be an experience to savour. The idea of giving a robust defence of the thesis was explored and the manner in which the student should be seen to be taking ownership of the research territory as laid out in their thesis.

While each examination team is different, and of course, that each thesis demands its own particular scrutiny, the appointment of an independent chair, drawn from a pool of experienced examiners within UAL ensures that each viva is conducted within the guidelines and that our university regulations are strictly adhered to.   My workshop set out to explain the preparation for the event, what happens on the day itself and what follows. It also explored various ways in which the visual material could be presented and the importance throughout of seeing the thesis as all the work to be examined- practical and written. I hope the session served to de-mysterfy the viva and answer some of the concerns and fears that students invariably harbour. From my perspective, it was a very engaging and enjoyable session with everyone participating.’

CCW PhD student Elizabeth Manchester discussed her experience in Coldwell’s workshop. ‘In his extremely useful seminar, Paul presented lots of eminently sensible and practical advice about how to approach your viva. He recommended things that should be completely obvious but sadly aren’t – like reading your thesis through several times so that you take ownership of it and can refer back to it in those high pressure moments (instead of kicking yourself afterwards when you realise that you had actually answered the question in depth several pages in, something I can imagine myself doing only too easily). He took us through all the nitty-gritty basics, such as who will be there, what the main aim of the process is, and then showed us pictures of viva set-ups, giving us a range of examples of how previous PhD candidates had dealt with that difficult issue of how to present the practice element of the research. Above all, he emphasised the positive aspects of this event: the fact that it is an opportunity not only for a real encounter with your research, but also for a really in-depth discussion of it, involving an exchange of ideas with academics in your field. Putting your work and ideas centre-stage – what could be more stimulating and exciting?!’

Recordings of the workshops by Bradfield and Coldwell are available on Soundcloud.

BP Portrait Award 2014

This year two members of CCW research staff, Professor Eileen Hogan and Reader Mark Fairnington, have been selected to show in the BP Portrait Award 2014. The exhibition, held annually at the National Portrait Gallery ‘showcases fifty-five of the most outstanding and innovative new portraits from around the world. From informal and personal studies of friends and family to revealing images of famous faces, the exhibition features a variety of styles and approaches to the contemporary painted portrait. The works on display, selected from a record-breaking 2,377 entries, include the winner of the £30,000 first prize as well as the work of the BP Young Artist 2014 and the BP Travel Award 2013 winners.

Now in its twenty-fifth year of sponsorship by BP, and thirty-fifth year at the National Portrait Gallery, the Portrait Award is the most prestigious international portrait painting competition and the free exhibition continues to be an unmissable highlight of the annual art calendar.’

Adam Phillips

Adam Phillips in memory of Jane Brodie by Eileen Hogan [right panel], 2013 © Eileen Hogan

Hogan’s sitter is Adam Phillips, profiled in 2013 in the New Yorker, which described him as Britain’s foremost psychoanalytical writer. It was commissioned (a legacy) by the late children’s lawyer, Jane Brodie, a mutual friend of Hogan’s and of Phillips’ and is painted in her memory. Hogan has previously appeared in the BP Portrait Award with her portraits of Ian Hamilton Finlay (2007), Lady Sainsbury of Preston Candover (2009) and Paul Ruddock (2012).

The Twins

The Twins (Lee and Jason) by Mark Fairnington, 2013 © Mark Fairnington

Fairnington is showing ‘a diptych of my sons Lee and Jason. I am making one painting a year of the boys. In the last few years the focus of my research has shifted from natural history collections towards the human subject. Some of the central themes, however, still persist such as moments where the idea of the specimen, the representative, overlaps with the individual and the specific. I have avoided using the word “portrait” to describe the new paintings as this contextualises them in a particular way and within a certain history. They are paintings of people. However, I was interested to see what they looked like in relation to paintings that are clearly identified as portraits. The BP Portrait Award is a place where this happens.

Lee and Jason are twins and they are redheads. They don’t usually wear the same clothes. In my paintings they are wearing their wetsuits, a graphic image that immediately links the paintings, making the similarities between the boys very clear and immediate. The differences emerge slowly: body posture, how they hold their heads, the slope of the shoulders, the hand gestures. The paintings are peculiarly still given the whirlwind dynamism that characterises the boys’ daily lives.’