Video Painting

A Short History

Will Smith, Director, Open Gallery

Some art movements begin with a political agenda, others with a technique or style. Video painting began with a philosophy.

In 2001, Hilary Lawson published ‘Closure’. It was the culmination of twenty years grappling with what he saw as the impending crisis of postmodernism, he proposed that the world is open, and that “What distinguishes art from knowledge is the acceptance of the failure of closure and the avoidance of an attempt to complete closure” (Hilary Lawson, Closure 2001.)

In the wake of ‘Closure’ he began making videos as exercises in the completion of narrative and set out to create material that would avoid closure and thereby approach openness. Over the following year he shot a great deal of material seeking to explore and understand the facets of this new format which he called video painting. In particular he sought to identify what characteristics were required of video paintings for them to shift the gaze of the viewer from the identification of narrative and closure to the exploration of what he saw as the unlimited potential of visual space. Having identified some ground rules, he then set out to find others who might share his enthusiasm for this new medium. Working with a close friend and artist, Sanchita Islam, a small initial group was formed which also included William Raban, Isabelle Inghillieri, Nina Danino and Tina Keane.

The video painting was defined. The camera is stationary. There can be no subsequent editing or manipulation of the image. There is no dialogue, no sound.

In the context of this definition, video painting could be seen to have its precursors in the long almost static shots which made up Warhol’s non-narrative films such as Sleep (1963) and Gillian Wearing’s 1997 Turner Prize piece Sixty Minutes Silence which resolutely fixed its frame over an almost still group portrait.

In 2003, working with a computer scientist, William Sowerbutts, technology was developed to enable the video paintings to be combined so that they could form collections of work that never repeated and yet had structure. Then in 2006, Open Gallery was formed as a platform for the presentation of work by this group of video artists. The first public installation took place in the UK later in the same year. Exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (2006), Sketch Gallery (2007), the Hayward Gallery (2007), Crunch (2008), Shunt (2009), HowTheLightGetsIn (2009), The Miami Ice Palace (2009), the Square gallery (2010) and the Hospital Club (2010) have followed.

Since 2006 a growing number of artists have become involved in the project, exploring the potential of the video painting with differing responses to it: from the half seen, half understood mists of Sarah Turner’s collection ‘Lake Baikal’ to the exploration of the transient relationship between nature and architecture in Alys Williams’ video works, to the recurring human presence elegantly explored within Gabrielle Le Bayon’s collections and George Barber’s use of random human intervention in his action paintings.

Looking back it is now possible to see a progression in the eight years since the early video paintings. Against the backdrop of a visual world of moving images driven solely by narrative and closure, the early video paintings sought above all to escape those narratives. Gradually elements of narrative have been reintroduced. In place of the predominantly naturalistic early work, urban material was introduced and the human subject began to play a larger role. Instead of seeking to escape narrative altogether and immerse the viewer in being, the video paintings increasingly proposed narratives only to allow them to be undermined.