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Volume I: Recent works by Martin McGinn opens at The Piper Gallery
McGinn’s work is a wonderful fusion of present-day and traditional. Volume I presents recent works by McGinn that treat art history books as still lives; he examines books with the same fervour that other still-life painters devote to flowers or food. The works are painted from life in an eminently traditional way, eschewing all computerised ingenuity. But, these works are far from predictable, exploring the complex association between contemporary painting and art history, producing curiously playful reproductions. They are fresh and dimensional, turning still life on its head.

LONDON.- The Piper Gallery presents Volume I, recent works by Martin McGinn that treat art history books as still lives and explore the idea of a reproduction of a reproduction. Looking at the distance placed between a viewer and an original work of art, his works invite a re-assessment of history, returning a reproduction to an original oil on canvas.

McGinn explores the complex association between contemporary painting and art history, producing curiously playful reproductions that successfully alter the context, scale and colour of their more familiar original forms. Volume I presents books painted from life in an eminently traditional way, using traditional ideas. Some works also show pages from books that have been screwed up; McGinn has vandalised these books before transforming them into something to be revered. The works are fresh and dimensional, turning still life on its head while analysing McGinn’s own relationship with art history.

In his catalogue essay to accompany the exhibition, Richard Cork comments, ‘The omnipresence of art reproductions lies at the centre of Martin McGinn’s fascinating new work... McGinn scrutinises [books] with as much penetrating zeal as other still-life painters might devote to flowers, vessels or food. Relying on traditional skills and eschewing all computerised ingenuity, he isolates art-history books, monographs on individual practitioners and substantial exhibition catalogues in expanses of empty space. But there is nothing predictable about the work he produces.’

Having begun painting novels (one of his early works includes a copy of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo), McGinn progressed to art books using art history in an individualised and tangential way. His paintings appear aesthetically simple but have complex undertones comparable with the 17th century vanitas that contained symbolic objects referencing the inevitability of death and transience of life. Containing few objects, vanitas were often sombre compositions of great power. In the same way, McGinn’s works have multiple resonances, forcing us to look at that which we may not normally consider. There is an amazing incidental detail in his books with their dirty paper and curled edges.

In a painting entitled Art History’s Shadow McGinn inspects a survey of art history casting a shadow on the wall on which it leans. This prompts us to question the meaning of the work - how can one painting be about the whole of art history? But, looking at the painting of this tatty book, we are also forced to ask whether McGinn is suggesting that art history itself is falling apart. Or, is this just a much-cherished and dog-eared catalogue?

Gallery founder and director Megan Piper says, ‘There is an element of surprise when you see Martin’s work in person; the scale, texture and impact of the paintings is only revealed when you stand in front of each canvas and are left to pause, think and consider. These are serious paintings but they have an inherent playfulness that has appealed to me from the first time I saw them in his studio.’

Martin McGinn was born in Kent in 1955. He studied at Bristol School of Art (1974-77) and the Royal College of Art (1978-81). In recent work, McGinn takes famous historical paintings as a starting reference, producing complex, yet curiously playful, reproductions. Whilst being true to his own distinctive painting style, with bold and textured brushstrokes, he reproduces masterpieces that invite a re-assessment of perspective and history.

Selected group exhibitions include: Tate Liverpool, Shopping: A Century of Art and Consumer Culture (2002); Anthony D’Offay, London Death to the Fascist Insect that Preys on the Life of the People (2001); John Moores at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (1997 and 1999); and the Whitechapel Open (1990 and 1998). His work is included in the Government Art Collection, British Council Collection, Contemporary Art Society, London and the Saatchi Collection.

McGinn lives and works in London.

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Volume I: Recent works by Martin McGinn opens at The Piper Gallery

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