As an Art Historian I’ve always felt that whenever people say ‘that’s rubbish, a monkey could do better’, it’s just a cop-out. Generally speaking I quite like contemporary art, not because I’d like to hang it on my walls or I necessarily think its ‘good’, but because it tends to make me think.
Last Sunday, however, I experienced something that has never happened to me before – I came out of an exhibition feeling totally depressed. It wasn’t because Kieran Stiles had highlighted the plight of starving children, commercial greed or terminal diseases, nothing of the sort; he’d just left me feeling totally flat. I felt genuinely miserable because I could hardly find anything to applaud in his exhibition.
It’s not just that my siblings’ nursery school paintings were better – one could probably say the same of Tracy Emin’s work, although I really hope my little sister never takes photos of herself shoving money into her crotch – but Stiles’ work was just unavoidably bland.
His paintings are splattered and daubed in uncomplicated representations of countryside scenes of the kind that seem to be popular in upper-middle class kitchens. They’re harmless enough but there seems to be so little to them.
I’m normally on the fence as to whether titles help a picture. If there’s something particular to be conveyed then they make sense, but Stiles’ titles remove what little interest there is in his works. ‘Beach’ adds absolutely nothing to a pastel coloured set of streaks and even removes any hint or suggestion of depth or ambiguity.
There’s no hidden meaning here. Much worse; there seems to be no meaning at all. Stiles’ works are extremely simple, and their composition is so uninspired that the only thing I can find to say in their defence is that the colours are quite nice. Shoot me now.
Perhaps I’m being unfair to Stiles. This is, after all, a commercial gallery designed to sell local artists at reasonable prices. But I certainly wouldn’t waste £600-£800 on one of these.