Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe

Emmanuel Shinwell Goes to University, 2009

Study for Emanuel Shinwell Goes to University, 2009 

This painting is about how Manny Shinwell got to Oxford.  Emanuel Shinwell grew up in a working-class neighborhood where he learned at an early age that he could never go to Oxford or Cambridge because schools designed for his class didn’t teach Latin or Greek, so he wouldn’t be able to take the entrance exams.  He realized he knew lots of people who knew the classical languages because they were rabbis.  He got in to Oxford and went on to be a very young minister in the post-1945 Labour Government, was known or at least assumed to be a secret Communist, and used to turn up regularly at peace demonstrations in the sixties.  I remember him and that he was jolly and very short. 

    This was the only painting I made that year.  It took a long time because it’s dark, and dark and intense takes a long time.  I remember Herbie Vogel being disconcerted and uncomprehending when I said I wanted to be Poussin if one were to talk like that—he had asked me the who in art history would you want to be question, expecting me to say Jackson Pollock or Picasso or whomever.  I think T.J. Clark is on to something when he talks about how balance in Poussin will be between an area defined by perspective down here but by what someone is doing over there.  That would be a kind of notion of balance I could understand and work with.  As importantly or more, I think paintings are all about how they hang on the wall, how they are there in the same way one might talk about how a person is there.  How someone stands tells you a lot before you start.  Paintings are matters of outsides and insides, and this painting is made of depths, interiors that are seen and indistinguishable from the exterior but not necessarily continuous with it.  Like looking into someone’s eyes.  The painting is simply divided by a diagonal, but actually made of digressions so that the path from bottom to top is both straight and not.  Everywhere one looks there is only space which is at once surface and depth.  Movement in and out caused by color does more than undermine the movement described by the diagonal; it makes it into a division between depths where everything is deep.