Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe

Triumph (1983-4) and More Middle Class Pleasure (1984)

Study for More Middle Class Pleasure (1984)

More Middle Class Pleasure (1984) and Triumph (1983-4) are attempts to make works that are forceful without being forceful—elsewhere and later I’d put forward the image of the power of the powerless in the course of rethinking Winckelmann’s categories in my book, Beauty and the Contemporary Sublime.  There are no sharp diagonal movements in either.  At the same time the color is pretty powerful.  I wanted Triumph to be ornamental, like a vase in a Matisse, and More Middle-Class Pleasure to be light and billowing gently and unevenly.

    They are, like the book I’d later write, about what’s not supposed to be serious in art but of course is, namely pleasure, in itself and as opposed to piety.  I made More Middle-Class Pleasure by using three kinds of drawing:  drawing with a ruler, drawing free hand in the usual way, drawing freehand but holding the pencil between my third and little finger so it couldn’t be fully controlled.  The colors come from the dress a woman was wearing and the color of her hair, we had sat talking for a while and the way her dress hung has something to do with the movements in this painting.  It probably helps to be extra still when looking at it, even more than most of my work the painting’s about how when someone is still you can still see how alive she or he is.  I called it More Middle-Class Pleasure because it’s a painting about pleasure, and painting is quintessentially bourgeois, or middle-class as we say, which is of course why it has spent so much of its history seeking not to be.  Those who make it know what class we’re talking about.  Here I thought the title would be a reminder, as it’s something one might say about various other things which are pleasurable, like fancy restaurants and the novel.  Donald Kuspit reviewed the New York show it was in and took the title seriously in that way that can only make you laugh, I don’t know whether that proved a point or not in terms of what I was trying to do with it.  Karl Marx did not want to abolish the pleasant thing bourgeois culture produced, he just wanted everyone the same culture oppressed to have access to them—there is no evidence that he was opposed to pleasure, his disciples’ arguments for its inherent wickedness notwithstanding.  I called Triumph that because it celebrates or enacts the victory of the pleasurable over the dull and/or shrill.