Chalk, Vaseline, bath bombs... in the third of our series on the Turner Prize contenders, DAVID WHETSTONE talks to Karla Black about her works
ART is widely understood as a commodity, as something to covet and to buy, which perhaps explains why George Shaw’s Turner Prize-shortlisted work seems to have struck a chord with many visitors to Baltic.
Shaw specialises in paintings and rectangular ones at that. They show, in near photographic detail, places we might recognise. You can imagine one of them on your wall at home.
But thousands did not queue across the Millennium Bridge to see pictures on walls. The extraordinary pulling power of the Turner Prize is not because it has traditionally played safe.
Karla Black’s quarter of Baltic’s Turner Prize exhibition is more like it. Here’s art that confounds all commonly held definitions. At first glance – and even second and third – it’s all over the place. Where’s the method, the plan?
The Scottish artist, looking a little frazzled at the press preview, seems to be in two minds about being shortlisted for a competition that attracts such wide interest and not a little flak.
“I think it is exciting, in terms of: ‘Yes, that’s great; it’s really nice to have that recognition’. But on the other hand you don’t want to build it up to more than it is.
“I suppose I don’t want to get too nervous. There’s such a lot going on at the moment and we’re all trying to make exhibitions. So this is not the most important thing in the world.”
Unlike the more defined and clinical work of her fellow contenders, Black’s has an apparent randomness to it which might be deceptive. It’s big sheets of paper, torn and daubed and suspended from the ceiling. It’s also sheets of paint-splattered cellophane and pastel-coloured powders scattered liberally across the floor.
Like Marcel Duchamp with his Fountain – actually, a urinal – nearly 100 years ago (yes, shockable art is nothing new), Black seems to have turned to the bathroom for her materials.
Her powders are not paint but crushed bath cubes and the like.
Mention the disparity between her art and a painting on a wall or a bronze on a plinth and she says: “To me, it’s not very different.
“I think a painting on a wall or a bronze sculpture, whatever, are just the physical culmination of a creative process.
“Sometimes how an artist is differentiated from others is just about where you stop within that process.”
Black explains that she gives just as much thought to her materials, and to how she uses those materials, as any artist whose work might fall within more conventional boundaries.
But she adds that she is just as conscious, when making her art, of the demands of the space she is working in.
“You have to have somewhere to start from and I usually start with colour and material, deciding: yes, I’d like to use those colours and I’d like those materials.”