'The Picture of Health' The Sunday Times
'They say that painting is back. By ‘they’ I mean the usual gaggle of minor players who have a vested interest in making these sorts of claims – writers of Sunday supplement headlines, fresh-faced dealers made noisy by callowness and so on – and one big player, Charles Saatchi, who, we keep hearing, has been selling off his YBA holdings and buying paintings instead. As a reader of The Sunday Times, you will want the truth on this matter, not more spin. You may have encountered excitable twaddle elsewhere in the media about painting’s return, but in Culture, you expect to discover how it really is. So it’s my duty to tell you that painting cannot be back: it never went away. There has never been a time on these islands when someone, somewhere, has not somewhere, has not been producing worthwhile paintings. But, these days, painting is just one way of making art, not the only way. For the past two generations or so, other ways of making art – sculpture, installation, video, photography, conceptual manoeuvring – have interested our best young artists more than painting. However painting appears to have discovered fresh energy recently. It is, therefore, an area of art worth paying extra attention to just now. That’s how it is. It may sound dull, but those are the facts. So, your dutiful reporter has duly been trudging around the painting shows this week, weighing up their real worth. I’ve focused on two women painters of the same generation, both born in 1969, both old enough, therefore, not to be trying it on, yet both at the point, just past their mid thirties, where their lives will be feeling critical: the perfect time for a visit. I started with Stella Vine, because she has the strongest Saatchi connection. You may remember the media stormette erupting around her last year because she was an ex-stripper, self taught, who did paintings of Princess Diana and that unfortunate heroin addict, Rachel Whitear, whose notorious final photograph, crouched pathetically on her living-room floor, made such a distressing frontispiece to our morning papers. Saatchi bought these paintings and put them in a show called New Blood; and, although I didn’t much want to like Vine’s contribution, I found I did. It had something. What had happened to Vine after that, I didn’t know. So the news that a fresh new cluster of her paintings has gone on view at a place called Hiscox Art Projects, in EC3, tempted me into the East End, where I expected to find one of those Feral art spaces – a run-down warehouse or converted meat-packing plant – in which so much of the real action of the London art scene unfolds. Boy, was I wrong. Hiscox turns out to be a giant insurance setup in the City, and it’s art space is a glassed-in trophy foyer at the bottom of a multistorey corporate HQ, surrounded by banks, and opposite Norman Foster’s gherkin. Stella Vine, on this evidence, has become a blue-chip City investment. The paintings in the flashy corporate foyer, however, tackle an unlikely subject for an insurance HQ: they are the ruminations on celebrity and the weird wounds it inflicts. A couple of portraits show the post-lapsarian Kate Moss, looking wide-eyed and anxious; there’s a hilarious scene of frantically waving detox patients trapped inside the Priory; and a charmingly skinny group portrait of the Rolling Stones, taken from one of their early album covers, when they really were snake-hipped and sexy. All this has been painted with a drippy directness and not much in the way of picture making subtlety. Moss has been enlarged from the photo, the smudgy eye-liner around her eyes heaped on with a trowel and the words ‘Holy water cannot help you now’ scrawled next to her, a tad creepily. Is this empathy or accusation ? The gesticulating female celebs, trapped like Rapunzels on the upper floors of the Priory, consist of a few blobs of colour squeezed straight from the tube, while the glaring white castle in which they have been incarcerated has been shaped with a palette knife, as if the Priory were a huge iced cake. It’s all done pretty crudely. There’s not much give in Vine’s fingers. Her emotional range covers a narrow band on the Bridget Jones spectrum. She copies her images from existing sources. Her colours are a cake-maker’s – girlie pinks, Alice-band blues – and the way she writes on her pictures learnt from a bakery. But there’s something there nevertheless: a combination of empathy and cynicism that can be startling. After much energetic googling, I tracked down the quotation about the holy water to a song by PJ Harvey about vulnerable beauty trapped in The Desperate Kingdom of Love. ‘Your mysterious eyes cannot help you/Selling your reason will not bring you through,’ continues the melancholy lament. Thus, Vine presents Moss as an Ophelia figure, Princess Diana Mark II, a breakable victim of love whom the thuggish forces of modern life are out to crush. It’s an unexpectedly snippy and independent characterization, fuelled, I fancy, by lots of fierce transference. Vine, you feel, learnt all she needed to learn about blokes during her stripping days. The sweet-shop colour schemes lend an unhealthy toxicity that suits the subject matter. And the emblematic bits of cake-writing offer helpful clues to each picture’s emotional pitch. In the case of the Priory painting, the telephone number of the clean-up castle has been cheekily included, as well as the price of a night’s stay, including VAT. Thus any toxic celebs owning this painting need only look at their wall to find the daily rate of salvation and the number to ring. Vine’s sympathy has turned to scorn. Chantal Joffe is the same age as Vine, copies her images images from photos too, and is just as interested in models and beautiful people, but her paintings have none of that alarming sense of personal involvement that yanks your attention in Vine’s direction. Her new paintings, are elegant, co-ordinated, beautifully made and subtly nourish. I remember she used to make small paintings with lots of hot coupling in them: porn mags were a favourite source. In her new show, however, the porn action has been replaced by scenes from a fashion shoot; and when you walk into the Victoria Miro gallery, you find yourself ringed by a set of giant Audrey Hepburns, 7ft tall, big-eyed, beautiful brunettes in Chanel cuts, who train a particularly elegant lonliness on you, as if Bergman were directing a spread in Vogue. There’s something Picasso-like, as well, about these curious paintings: the two tone heads, the Africanised expressions, the totem-pole formats. But where Picasso brought a sense of voodoo to his female idols, Joffe maintains an emotional coolness that is most unsettling. I’ll be back for a second look, and maybe a third. Something has hooked me.'
'Don't look to these plush confectionary portraits by Stella Vine in her solo show, entitled Petal (part two), for any useful information about her subjects, as it's not there. The most dynamic elements of her compositions are the expansive, amorphous color fields built of countless layers of underpainting and the volcanic eruptions of impasto that interrupt them. The English painter creates her paintings with just the bare minimum required to give the works something like space extending from the picture plane, forestalling vertigo. The sensationalism of the images' content sometimes obscures the real joy in the work, but with a list of subjects that careens from Jean Harlowe, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Frida Kahlo, Sid and Nancy, and Princess Diana to the artist's relatives, it's hard not to look for meaning.
In 'Jean tiger skin', Jean Harlowe lounges on top of an orange tiger skin rug across a sea of electric blue paint, her face a carnival mask with sharp teeth, blood-red lips and clumpy mascara guarding her startled blue eyes like barbed wire. These and other grotesqueries find their mirror in the tiger's blue glass orbs, exaggeratedly arched eyebrows and hastily rendered fur.The painting has nothing at all to do with Jean Harlowe and everything to do with Vine's apparent aversion to either mixing colors on the palette, or leaving any paint in the tube. Her affection for celebrities, combined with the brazenly unacademic ambitions of her figurative style, triggers comparison to her contemporary Elizabeth Peyton. Vine is far less sophisticated, but that is precisely the point. The artlessness Peyton strives for as a conceptual frame work, Vine achieves without even trying, and her emerging voice does not seek to overcome her outsider status. Rather, her research is really appealing due to the awkward and utterly unselfconscious enthusiasm with which she proceeds.'
An interview with Stella Vine
by iliana fokianaki
Artprice Magazine Aug 2004
Stella Vine is a contemporary figurative painter. Her portraits are dark yet surprisingly sweet and romantic. And one would say “sweet” is not the appropriate word to describe an artwork. But Stella’s choice of colours reminisces birthday cakes and cartoons, a palette of childhood memories. However her work carries an adult irony and black humour. Her mannerism is fierce and sculptural, as if her subject is about to jump off the canvas.
I was introduced to Stella’s work when I was writing an article on media mogul and art collector Charles Saatchi and the new exhibition “New Blood” at his gallery. Her work attracted me instantly. Consequently, I wanted to know more about her and her work. Vine’s portrait of the late Princess Diana was the work that caused the first reaction around the artist. Diana’s portrait had writing on the canvas: “Hi, Paul can you come over I’m really frightened” inspired by an article on Paul Burell, Diana’s butler. The second work purchased by Saatchi and included in the “New Blood” exhibition, was a portrait of 15 year old drug-overdose victim Rachel Witwear. Since then there has been an uproar surrounding Vine’s work spurring investigations about her personal life and her previous profession as an exotic dancer. Anti-Saatchi critics around the world found new material for their case.
I was introduced to Stella Vine herself recently, whilst working in a London gallery. She was more composed and poised than I expected. The “enfant terrible” is a trait apparent in her work but in contrast with her calm nature.
IF: A big art collector like Charles Saatchi has bought your work, there has been media frenzy and many pet theories on your work and there have been many people that reacted very strongly about your work. How has this affected Stella as a person?
SV: I think overall it’s all been really cool. I’m still such an awkward pain in the ass teenager though, in suitable gothic style I like the negative criticisms, they are more stimulating, I don’t believe the nice ones. Like when Brian Sewell, said, “she paints like a frog, and she shouldn’t give up the night job”. I can keep up the fight, I guess. God knows what I’m fighting. I can’t tell you how physically and mentally exhausted I am. I feel like there's something wrong with me. It’s been a tough last few years, and I’ve worked bloody hard. I paint all the time, and I’m forever trying to do up the knackered old buildings with no stairs or kitchens, that I tend to live in one day eh...! ....and I put up with a lot of bass hurting my brain ...my son and his mates making their hip hop music. There’s no routine to my life, and no lover, my confidence is at an all time low, that’s bizarre isn’t it?
IF: What is your big love and what is your big hate in the London art scene?
SV: It’s stimulating to have the amazing galleries and artists we have here in London, from the big guys to the artist run spaces. There’s a tension and stress, romance, glamour, it’s a tough city. I feel an outsider to most things in life, totally my own fault. I rarely go to private views, I find them tricky, and the art world seems really closed off, very difficult to get any advice, I just don’t fit in I guess, I wonder if I am a good artist sometimes.... and the whole thing was the ‘Saatchi shock, paint stripper’, but I think I have something, an ability to express something. Personally I think all art is autobiographical, emotional and expressive, be it a can of shit, blutac, or unmade beds, all of which I admire. London ummm.... I approached a few galleries for representation, but they weren’t interested, Andy Warhol didn’t fit in either did he...? Anyway I’m doing it my way. “Sid Vicious” – Stella Vine... it’s that old SV thing. So London... umm it’s a love hate thing.
IF: The past two years you have been very busy and have had several one woman and group shows. Has this affected the process and the direction your work has taken?
SV: It’s been great to have the support of Cathy Lomax at Transition Gallery, she has been one of the few people to really believe in me. And some of the things she has said to me...for example I’d say...’I want to make a video, I’m Princess Lea, right, and I’ll film it in the snow up a mountain, and I turn around to R2D2 and say, on repeat,” please help me, I have lost my soul, help me OB1Knobe, you’re my only hope”... type of thing... and she’d say...“great do it, just do it all, you shouldn’t censor yourself so much, stop chucking stuff out !” Nice genuine support without any motive. Cathy paints a bit like Peter Blake. I first came across Cathy’s magazine ‘Arty’ a little art fanzine at the Serpentine gallery bookshop. I was opening my gallery Rosy Wilde, and I wanted to offer Cathy a show, so I got in touch with her....the energy in her magazine, and the childishness of it, I thought she would be a teenager, she was my age...and she also was running her own gallery. Mine was in a disused butchers shop, Cathy’s in a disused garage. She’s been a rock, I am notoriously unreliable, which I hope to improve…tomorrow. We have a lot in common, so that’s been an amazing meeting. We’ve both given a lot of shows to emerging and more established artists. Cathy loves group shows, I’ve given more solo shows. It’s been great, and I’ve learnt a lot, I’m open to all sorts of ideas. I love Gina Birch from The Raincoats, she played at my solo show, and also at the opening of ‘fan club’ at Rosy Wilde. I always wanted to meet her, so art has brought me that too.
IF: What do you find inspiring and what is very important for you at the moment?
SV: I like strong/vulnerable interesting women, and then sometimes I like painting beautiful men, like Kurt Cobain, or Mr Darcy. I’m painting Grayson Perry at the moment, it’s of him holding a sign, saying ‘NO MORE ART’, outside Tate Britain, my heart soared when I saw that image. But there’s no strict rules, I don’t have a line, or an angle , I like love stories, but that might include something really warped like Fred and Rosemary West, but then that would probably have a secret message in it, or Chicken Stu and Michelle. I guess what drives me is trying to get all the things out of my head on to canvas or in other creative forms, things I admire, or things that srike a chord, or little secret messages, before I die. I’m quite private about what I’m painting, I don’t really like suggestions, or any input, it confuses and distracts me.
IF: Do you consider your portraits as works that are mainly for women to identify with or relate to and for men to observe?
SV: No I’m not interested in that at all.
IF: You once said "I can paint in a much more realistic, photographic style, but I find it more interesting to make it less perfect". I really agree and I always believed that the less perfect, is in actual fact more realistic. Do you agree?
SV: I think that when I paint more closely to the idea of reality, they become really boring for me, and I don’t have ideas about that perfect photo thing that appeals to me, or any ideas at all about that, just what comes out, and if I like it, it’s cool, regardless of whether it’s ‘bad’ or ‘unfinished’. There are artists I really like who are closer to that, like Richter maybe, but I don’t have that patience, maybe, or maybe the brains... ! Things that turn me on in art, are so varied, like I love Martin Creed’s work, I get high of his stuff, and then I like a lot of the outsider artists too.
IF: I find in your work something excitingly terrifying in the way your chosen subject matter has an expression that seems happy but also on a closer look it looks as if it is a forced smile, almost a forced happiness. Some of your work involves portraits of celebrities that one suspects they had that forced and fake element in their lives. Are you consciously drawn to that theme?
SV: No, actually more the other way, the terrible sadness in people, the awful things everyone goes through in life, the happiness is probably just already there in the image, and it’s a nice acceptable opposite to what I am interested in.
IF: In an interview earlier this year amongst the people you admire you mentioned Sylvia Plath and Frida Kahlo. Do you believe that poetry can be translated in painting? And do you think it is vital for the creating process to be what we could call "personal" in your choice of subject matters, themes, imagery?
SV: Although I like Sylvia’s poetry a lot, it’s the whole package with her and Ted (the famous poet and Plath’s husband) that I love. Sometimes I don’t do obviously personal. For example I painted Saddam Hussein’s kitchen, from an image in the papers, of the place where he was found. I wanted to paint it really pretty, like something cosy, and happy, and loving, which was in the image I think anyway. Sometimes I think my paintings get a bit conceptual... when there’s much more going on than just the personal or the expressive... but I can’t really explain it. I think the ‘Diana’ painting is conceptual. It ‘s working on some deep levels that I find hard to explain, it’s not just a painting about what I think about Diana. I probably could give you some arty theory, but I can’t really be assed, I am not as stupid as I make out…though! I just think that what I am doing now is no different from anything I’ve done since as far back as I can remember, and I think that one day, when it’s all put together, it will make sense, and it will be deep. I found a little painting of Romeo and Juliet the other day I did as a child, I was so surprised, it really is no different, full of wishing, and darkness, and then another of a copy of a pre-Raphaelite painting, of two little girls huddled together, and I remembered what was going on in my head when I painted it. I was about ten, I think. I wanted to go and live on my own in the hills, like Heidi, but without the grandfather.
The romantic, gothic, ephemeral and hardcore elements are apparent in her work, together with a craftsmanship to paint what even the harshest of critics must admit is a good portrait. However, those elements are covered under layers of clear messages of dialogue with her viewer. And that is what in my opinion makes her work accessible and attractive to viewers and art lovers alike. Stella’s work is hardcore and complex just because of the gravitas her themes carry, but she carries them with the enthusiasm and purity of a child.
Prozac and Private Views (catalogue) 2004
by Alex Michon
' When Charles Saatchi purchased her painting of Diana, Princess of Wales; (Hi Paul Can You Come Over) from Transition earlier this year, Stella Vine was propelled into the centre of a media frenzy and aspects of her life story were filtered through that particularly English kaleidoscope that is tabloid tale telling. Somehow in all this temporary fiction, in the whole hoopla of burlesque outrage, the main point got lost - the work itself.
Stella Vine is a contemporary figurative painter, a tightropey place to be at present. Her paintings, however, far from being stuck in some kind of revisionist retreading, trace a radical trajectory that connects the Rococo lyricism of Gainsborough to the Kitchen Sink storytelling of John Bratby, arriving at a modern gothic soup of Dark Romanticism where it is possible to discern the artist thinking with her brush.
In Prozac and Private Views, Vine directs her gaze to a cast of enigmatic characters to whom she is irresistibly drawn. These iconic figures, whose auras are photostatted onto our collective consciousness (who died young and stayed pretty) become characters in her own autobiographical petit dramas. Painting as an adrenalin rush of mise en scene vignettes.
Vine's darkling theatre of identification, re-defines a contemporary axis of representation where the melancholic gravitas of the work is often balanced by deft touches of black humour. Prozac and Private Views – her first solo show - is more self exploration than exploitation with Vine’s preoccupation with the subject matter centre stage. After the recent intense media scrutiny of her private life, Stella has spent time making new work, retreating into a fictive world “like a lost girl... a deranged teenager trying to make a environment of loves, memories and desires”. Intermingled with this Kristevean chora of salon style paintings and miniatures of Granny, Alwnick Fair, loved ones and pets, Vine includes Courtney Love, Bernadette of Lourdes and a Basquiat referenced painting of Sylvia Plath on a cooker. Meanwhile the “crappy pink fluorescent” Hotel Bernadette with its black arrow at the entrance to the show resonates with connotations of “model upstairs” defying any notions of a nostalgic comfort zone.
Not unlike the songs of P.J Harvey, which “dramatise the conflicts of desiring and being desired”, Vine explores “a kind of self exposure that uniquely combines seduction and threat, intimacy and estrangement” (The Sex Revolts, Gender Rebellion and Rock and Roll - Simon Reynolds and Joy Press - Serpents Tail 1995)'