Janet McKenzie interviews painter Dan Coombs on the occasion of the recent exhibition Jerwood Encounters: Suspicion (curated by Coombs) at the Jerwood Visual Arts Gallery, London.
Coombs comments: "The problem in painting is not one of quality, it is one of realness. Realness is quality, and this applies as much to abstract art as figurative art. Art isn’t grounded in taste as Greenberg thought; it is grounded in its reaching for the real. Painting is a highly artificial construct that lags far behind reality. At the Royal College, I was taken with the notion of Lacan that the real is not a given, but something held in tension by the symbolic and the imaginary. Realness in painting does not equal realism, and often realist paintings are the least real of all painting! Realness is something that has to be sought out and struggled towards, and without it painting becomes decorative or illustrational." He adds: "Painting requires diligence, discipline and a kind of stamina, a kind of rhythm that builds up over time. It also depends on internalisation, on absorption of forms, techniques and devices. It’s tough – it evolves through failure. Painters have to learn to lay down their ego, and give themselves over to the medium, to find their own voice within it. There is a kind of shock that comes through self-realisation, a release, a new freedom."