AN ARTISTIC partnership which acted as a forerunner to the controversial “Brit Art” movement is to be reunited to officially endorse their sole joint work.
Middlesbrough artist Alan Morley and his collaborator in ‘The Figurative Brotherhood’ John Bartlett met at Maidstone College of Art in the early 1980s.
At the time the art world’s view of what contemporary art should be was weighted towards the ‘conceptual’ and ‘minimal’, while friends Alan and John firmly believed in visual art and were proud to be the college’s ‘resident anorak painters’.
Alan said: “We were serious artists, even at a young age, and we knew painting was regarded as old-fashioned but we began to find out we were part of a growing backlash, nationally and globally, against all the pretence and con of much of contemporary art.
“We were expected to follow all the other students who were tripping over themselves as they tried to find the next gimmick.
“We and others rebelled and brought back the wealth of ingredients necessary for healthy art practice – politics, joy, emotion, symbolism, metaphor, storytelling and paint as an object.
“Because of our fight, we paved the way for the popular Brit Art, led by people like Tracey Emin, who was a couple of years behind us at the college, and Damien Hirst.
“We made art ‘visually dependent’ again and Brit Art was visually dependent – it is sometimes referred to as ‘conceptual’, but that is inaccurate.”
When the two painters left college in 1983 John gave Alan the gift of one of his works depicting his native East End, but it nagged at the recipient that something was missing.
In the 1990s he realised what it was, and painted his friend John into the scene. It now stands as the only piece co-created by the two.
John is heading north to Teesside on Saturday, January 30, to add his signature to the piece at Middlesbrough’s Python Gallery.
“It’s part of our story as students being involved in this painting backlash against the 60s and 70s,” said Alan. “We linked up very early but never did any joint project. This is the only physical link of him and I. Separately our work could be considered in its own right but it’s nice to have that strength of a link because we had a common cause.”
Alan is then taking John to view two pieces created at college called If That’s What They Call Art! which are on display at mima as part of the popular Localism exhibition.
He added: “Our little story is a very interesting one, it anticipates Brit Art but Brit Art went a bit crazy, controversial direction but it wouldn’t have been so easy to be visually based if it wasn’t for ‘New Wave Painting’ just a handful of years prior.”