Early on in planning the Hayward Gallery Touring exhibition Slow Painting, we knew that we wanted the publication to be a standalone book, one that would document the exhibition but also go beyond it. (The catalogue is also being distributed in the US, whereas the show’s tour is limited to British institutions.)
The exhibition features 19 artists, either from the UK or based here, whose work engages with different aspects of “slowness”, as it relates to painting. Some of the work is meticulous, detailed and slow to make; some of it is heavily ambiguous and takes time to unpack; some of it relates thematically to deep time and long cultural histories.
But an exhibition, even one involving some 60 paintings, can be only an aperture on to an artistic tendency, and the Slow Painting book – the result of discussions between myself, exhibition organiser Gilly Fox, Hayward Publishing and London-based designers Studio Mathias Clottu – was intended to both reflect that and go some way beyond the show itself.
The essay I wrote for it aims to construct a context for painterly slowness. It replays the decisions made in the curating (and touches on my own distant past as a painter), situating the show in response to the quick, network-related “provisional painting” trend of the past decade or so (which I have grievances with).
My essay also contextualises the show within the wider “slowness” movement and in oppositional relation to the technology-assisted acceleration of everyday life. These pages also, importantly I thought, include mentions and illustrations of works by artists who fell outside the remit of the show but who address similar concerns. The text is followed by substantial, painstakingly printed reproductions of all the works in the show.
After this, there’s a roundtable discussion, moderated by the London-based critic Hettie Judah, in which three of the artists – Gareth Cadwallader, Allison Katz and Sherman Mern Tat Sam – discuss the specifics of their practices and how they feel their work relates to slowness.
I was particularly happy with this part of the book, as it feels to authentically capture something of painterly studio talk: the deep engagement with materials and history; the sincere, even obsessive, dedication to the craft.
We settled on a layout that would feature elements of classicism – I was thinking of the Phaidon monographs from the 1960s that my parents owned – but also feel sharp and fresh, on the basis that a good number of the artists in Slow Painting engage with historical aesthetics in order to bring them somewhere new. So we went for a serif font and plenty of white space; Matthias emphasised readability and chose a binding that allows the page spreads to fully open.
For the cover, we selected Bath by Cadwallader. He’s one of the lesser-known artists in the show – which also includes figures such as Lubaina Himid, Michael Armitage and Varda Caivano – but his intricate, rhythmic and elliptical little paintings speak directly to the show’s focus on absorption.
On the back, we put a detail of a Merlin James work that’s as much a frame as a painting, as if you’re looking at the back of a stretcher when you turn it over. A book can’t mirror the experience of an exhibition, but hopefully this one is more than a memento.
Martin Herbert is the curator of Slow Painting, and the associate editor of ArtReview. Slow Painting is at the Levinsky Gallery, The Arts Institute, Plymouth (until 29 March); The Edge, University of Bath, and Bath School of Art and Design (10 April-6 June); and Inverness Museum and Art Gallery and Thurso Gallery (25 July-3 October)