It's hard to imagine but there may very well come a time when artists are painting what they see on tv. In some not too distant ultra-violet future when people are forced to live indoors, tv, or its future digital interactive equivalent, will constitute the world, and people will continue to want to paint it. Now this trivial observation has got something to do with the seemingly endless endurance of painting which is not what I want to discuss here, although it is related. What I'm trying to get at is not so much the bizarre notion of utilising electronic imagery as the subject matter of painting, as these two modes of visualisation bracket the entire history of representational practice: more to the point is the 'look' of electronic hardware as subject matter in painting (as opposed to the electronic image), a look that is totally divorced from any previously known painterly aesthetic. The home PC, for example, presents an impossible problem in representation for the realist painter; no object of cultural significance ever before produced by the human species is so devoid of 'naturalness', or reality for that matter, even though there exists a vague mimetic relationship between the thing as object and its operator.


But this doesn't appear to be a problem for James Cochran, as one of his paintings, a self-portrait, depicting a latter day St. Jerome in his study perhaps, achieves this impossible feat and succeeds as a painting, even though one's eye is continually drawn away from the human subject and towards the appalling ubiquity of the computer, positioned slightly to the left of centre, counterpointing the contemplative head of the historical subject with its own bland post-historical aesthetic - a prototypic anonymous 'head' of a future intelligent life-form. Above and to the left and right of the two 'heads' are two images on the wall, a Vermeer and one I can't identify, both framed and emphasising the blank enframed face of the monitor.


The artist has described this body of work as social realist in both its look and intent, and to a large degree, the label fits. Young (mostly) blokes in shorts, jeans, tank-tops, checked shirts, and trackies variously get drunk, have a good time or just hang around, some with a strange intent. It is this strangeness, which has more to do with art than verisimilitude, that separates this body of work from a truly social realist agenda.


A figure, hands clasped, kneeling on one knee in gym shoes, track pants and top, hooded in the medieval style, evinces a dual presence that oscillates between a figure in a painting by the 15th century Flemish painter Roger Van der Weyden, and a character from the movie 'Rocky'.


There's a dreamy eclecticism in the style of these works that shifts around through variations on early European and late Pre-Raphaelite imagery, immaculate 'soviet' and photographic realism, the paintings of David Salle, and Carravagio, some of which incorporate motifs that reference other representational codes, in particular the boxy little images that are prevalent on internet sites and CDRoms. There's a painting of a young woman standing pensively in a room, the composition and colour of which is reminiscent of both Jan Vermeer and David Hockney and with a hint of Edward Hopper. The use of hard edge rectangles (which, amongst other things, expose various levels of underpainting), also, perhaps unintentionally, echo Victor Burgin's variation on Hopper's Office at Night .

Depicted behind the young woman is an image of the crucified Christ, and on the wood veneer panelled sideboard on which her hand rests is a chalice and a bowl of apples, the presence of which items adds a combination of high kitsch drama and a studied religious eroticism.


From amidst this conclave of largely anonymous (from this writer's point of view) characters, the familiar face and tiger-skin tights of the artist Ann Newmarch is conspicuously apparent. It's a terrific portrait, a powerful liaison of artistic skill and complimentary subject, and should have won the Archibald Prize.


Perched as we are on the edge of hyper-reality and simulation, a social realist concern in painting seems, on the surface, vaguely anachronistic. And, if one thinks contemporary reality is problematic, then the concept of the social(ist) state is also on the way out, trashed by the forces of rationalism, and the gap between the haves and the have-nots is increasing. In the last few years of the millennium we are watching the demise of the social state and the emergence of the republic of greed. Yet, given the above, maybe an injection of a little social realism is just what's required; and anyway, why not social realism - after all, it's only a style, and all styles are up for grabs.


And as for painting, well I'm now convinced it's immortal and one can do anything with it, and I'm beginning to understand what James means when he says he's compelled to paint...that the world gives him no option but to paint.



James Moss, July 1999