There are no rules anymore, yet you can only do what you can, which is inevitably a disappointment. Romantic and self-pitying, maybe, but the good subjects have all been taken and in an age of the Hollywood remake, what do you paint?
Toby Ursell embraces this quandary that forms the heart of this exhibition. It is not meant as parody or irony - more an homage. Painters have always looked backwards as well as ahead. Rubens to Titian, everyone in the Renaissance and perhaps most famously Picasso to Velazquez, Rembrandt, Manet… but now he’s part of the problem too.
‘I shall never play the Dane’, Withnail, ‘Withnail and I’, 1987
‘…a tale told by an idiot’* is painting about painting: meta painting on one level, but that sounds very dry. Traditional subjects like a woman in profile become retro cartoons, Titian is given the Picasso treatment and references an 18-30 holiday. ‘The Artist’s Model’ exposes herself but perhaps, as artists always paint themselves (if we believe Wilde’s Basil Hallward) it is a self-portrait. Ursell is laying bare a love of Picasso and Velazquez and though he realises he will never be great, he will go down trying.
By presenting these well known, some would say ‘done to death’, subjects and playing with hierarchies, Ursell is perhaps taking another stance: that it is the ‘how’ and not the ‘what’ you paint that is the real subject. Photography does representation, painting something else.
‘A finished painting is a dead painting’, Picasso.
Verisimilitude in these paintings is fleeting, becoming pigment, ground and brushstrokes very quickly. It is here that Ursell tries to communicate something human. Its all love, sex and death; he wants to make you cry but is happy if you smile.
*title from Macbeth, spoken by Macbeth, William Shakespeare, 1606.
Toby Ursell graduated from UWIC, Cardiff (2003) and completed a painting MA at Wimbledon College Of Art in 2009. He has participated in numerous group shows notably ‘Rules Of Freedom’, Collyer Bistow Gallery, London (2019), ‘The Summer Exhibition’, Royal Academy Of Arts, London (2019/2012), ‘Nightswimming’, Mission Gallery, Swansea (2018) and ’30 Degrees C’, ASC Gallery, London (2016). 2018 saw two solo exhibitions ‘Insubstantial Pageant’, No Format Gallery, London and ‘In The Way Of..’, Window 135, London. He lives and works in London.
All artworks for sale.