Reent Toont Teent Toont Teent Toont Teenooneenoonee

Jay Staples & Stephen Brameld

Opening: Friday 13 August from 6.30pm
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"Collaboration is a word currently invoked in respectful tones. We all know that innovation in all fields is complex, requiring an ever more diverse range of skills. As a result, any project bringing together individuals with specific expertise to work in tandem on a project is not only deemed sensible but in many instances, it is seen as essential.

In the arts, that has not always been the case. Although artists in the medieval period, through the Renaissance and up until the 18th century, often worked in large studios with many assistants sharing the load and specialising in certain aspects of their craft. With the rise of Romanticism, the idea of the inspired genius working alone undermined any notion of collaboration. How could inspiration, unique hand skills, and individual creativity be fused together?

In the twentieth century, artists did begin to collaborate. They shared the responsibilities for various processes (sculptors leaving it to a foundry to produce the final bronzes from their original cast, master printmakers overseeing editions of prints, and video artists working with editors, musicians and cinematographers). Some did work closely with a fellow artist, for example, Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel, and Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray. But rarely did artists with the same skill set work together. One of the most famous examples is the partnership between Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. From 1980 to 1986, they worked on a group of paintings that made the younger artist’s reputation. Initially, a third artist, Francesco Clemente, was involved, and each would begin three separate paintings and one drawing, leaving enough physical and mental space for the others to contribute. They would then send on these unfinished works and wait to see the final results as each artist responded to the other’s input.

But what if two artists chose to work together on the same canvas at the same time. How would that work? Would it be a fight for dominance, or could some common ground be forged from the relationship that would meld into a balanced and unified vision? Jay Staples and Stephen Brameld have embarked on that project, and on the evidence presented in their oddly titled exhibition, it seems they have succeeded in finding a shared language. Cricket is a joyous painting, singing with a loud, bold voice. It seems to describe the rituals of that strange game. Red balls fly through the air over an asphalt pitch toward the wicket. A crease stamped by a heavy green foot is painted with childlike exuberance and cuts vertically through the picture. It’s wonderfully exhilarating, energetic and full of life, with overtones of the English painter Alan Davie and the post War CoBrA group of artists. The vitality of the work springs from an intuitive, expressive, gestural and spontaneous response to the world and to the practice of painting. It also seems to be informed by a jazz-like improvisation, as the artists riff off each other in the process of finding harmony, balance and resolution.

Throughout this body of works produced over the last two years, and particularly in the recent sculptural projects Blockhead 1 & 2, an interest in shamanism, mysticism and symbol surfaces, further linking them to the CoBrA group. This content emerges, and the narrative evolves through the process of painting and their response to each other’s input. It is not prompted by any initial intent. In that sense, the final works are also open to interpretation, though clues are offered in the titles. This also amplifies their underlying humour.

Silent Dub suggests an absence - perhaps the unpainted areas in this wonderfully exuberant, energised field - so should we concentrate on what is not there and ignore the riches on offer? Should we celebrate their non-action rather than their gestural brio? Is music the silence between sounds? Of course, this reverie will only be sustained by a work of serious intent that is well constructed and conceptually strong. Silent Dub has all those qualities.

It is impossible to identify two separate hands and minds. Instead, a synergy exists that welds together the two artist’s understanding of abstraction, modernism, street art and the visual imagery of children’s drawings. The partnership has engendered a sense of liberation. It has enabled them to take risks as the burden of ownership is cast aside. However this miraculous act of collaboration is achieved, it gives the work extraordinary vitality. Perhaps, as Alan Davie maintained, “ego is the enemy of true art.”

And that title? Reent Toont Teent Toont Teent Toont Teenooneenoonee is a line from a Frank Zappa song Outside Now. It describes the sounds made by a guitar string. It echoes Brameld and Staples’ sense of free improvisation, openness, silliness, and a commitment to finding ways to confront the niggly bits of our experience that never seem to snap into focus. How appropriate!"
Written by Ted Snell

Exhibition Catalogue available here: