Empty Art College Studios Explored In New Paintings By Paul Winstanley

Paul Winstanley

New paintings and prints by the British artist Paul Winstanley, depicting the interiors of British art schools, are on exhibition from 17 March – 7 May 2016 at London’s Alan Cristea Gallery. During the summer months of 2011 and 2012 Paul Winstanley travelled throughout England, Scotland and Wales photographing unpopulated art school studios, including the iconic Mackintosh Building, Glasgow School of Art, that was later severely damaged by fire in 2014. The imagery, selected from over 200 photographs, provided the source material for this new series of work. 

Winstanley is well-known for his paintings of uninhabited landscapes, deserted passages, lobbies, walkways and interiors. He has always been conscious of the generic spaces in which we live and work. The empty art school studio appealed as a site of creative potential, unrealised, tarnished through use. By the autumn of 2012 Winstanley had photographed the interiors of every degree-conferring art school in Britain. He left everything exactly as found using the camera to frame and document the subject with the purpose, initially, of publishing a book of the photographs (Art School, Ridinghouse, 2013) and later of using this imagery to develop prints, made from a combination of wood block and photogravure, and, for the first time, paintings on wood panel. 

Shown at the point when the studios have been vacated during each school’s summer break, these once busy interiors have become abstracted spaces that remind us of the colour field paintings of Barnett Newman and Brice Marden, with only hints of the creativity that is fostered there; paint stains, marked walls and worn furniture. 

The depiction of empty, unpopulated studios is a timely reminder that the existence of art schools, perceived by many as the key to Britain’s creative success, is now more tenuous than ever. Currently plagued by rising tuition fees, mounting student debt, and governmental cuts to arts funding, art schools have changed dramatically over the last 20 to 30 years, and the Art School series subtly captures this prescient moment. Already some studios depicted in this archive no longer exist. 

Winstanley’s body of work presents us with the basic template of ‘art school’, of its environment and its function. Winstanley comments, “This art school model – devised in the UK in the early 1960s mostly – has become the default model for art school education all over the world. At a very simple level I just wanted to show what that looked like.” 

This exhibition is complemented by a fully illustrated catalogue including an essay by writer and curator Fanny Singer, who is a board member of Open School East, an independent initiative bringing art school facilities to local communities.

Paul Winstanley was born in 1954 in Manchester. He trained at the Slade School of Fine Art 1976-78, and then at Cardiff College of Art. From 1991-1992 he was the Churchill College Cambridge / Kettles Yard Artist in Residence. He currently lives and works in London.