Codeword is a solo exhibition by Newcastle-based artist, Narbi Price.
Responding to the 20th Anniversary of IRA Bombing of Manchester, Narbi has created a series of new paintings about Manchester as it is now, showing key locations where the bombing took place.
The act of making these images on the twentieth anniversary is not to glorify the bombing, but to offer a space for contemplation on the legacy of that day in June.
The show is part of the Manchester Histories Festival 2016 and Pocket Manchester went to the Private View at PAPER Gallery where we spent some time with Narbi, speaking about his process, painting and Manchester.
PAPER gallery represents artists based around the medium of paper, and despite the fact that you have shown your lithographs in the gallery before, this is your first solo show in the space.
Working on paper was quite an interesting challenge for me as I normally work on canvas or sometimes on board. I didn’t want to have anything that was watercoloury or very tight as a drawing so I have approached them almost in the same way as I would approach my paintings on canvas. Paper is actually a very hardy support.
One of my favourite things about working on canvas is looking at the edge of the stretcher. I use dozens and dozens of layers of transparent paint and when you look at the edge of the canvas all the colours reveals itself very brightly, and that was my thinking with the visible white edge on the paper.
As you just said, Codeword, like the rest of your work is very much a series of paintings about painting, however the camera is the starting point of your work, photographing the locations which will become paintings.
When I get to the place there is a whole set of decision making: how do I think about the composition, how do I think about it formally, in terms of the application of paint…
When I am looking through the viewfinder of the camera I am thinking completely formally, I am thinking about abstract painting, horizontal and verticals, about directing space, it becomes very reductive.
I am interested in disrupting the photographic process. The paintings are quite photographic from a distance but when you approach them they break down a lot, and they are very much about the materiality of the painting, the painting technique.
In your choice of subject and places there is always a certain level of detachment, and I guess that brings an extra challenge when the event takes place in a familiar location.
I am interested in the various processes of detachment, of mediation. I knew the streets before and I knew the streets after, but it was only really when I got lost one night and I realized why I got lost, not because I didn’t know Manchester as well as I thought I did, but because it was a completely different city after the bomb. I think that was a bit of an epiphany and that was the reason that made me decide to make the work.
That is one level of detachment of memory and the fact that my understanding of the event was mediated through photography, tv, papers… there is a further level of mediation through the photographs, the further level of mediation with the painting.
As soon as I take the photograph that thinking stops, the source material is there and a whole different set of criteria come in thinking about painting and the history of painting.
Manchester has been a reference for you before, you have made a painting depicting the Salford Lads Club for example, is there any other project based or focused on Manchester you can tell us about?
I am looking to do something about Peterloo in 2019 when it will be the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre. It is still in a very early stage of development but it is something I would like to work on.
Do you ever feel the temptation to experiment with photography considering it is already in the early stages of your process, or develop another body of work besides painting, bringing the cinematic element in your paintings further?
With photography there is the implication of truth and it becomes immediately documentary, which is a misnomer because the camera always lies, however it is easily readable exactly as it was. With painting is always explicitly a fiction.
Cinema and TV influence me but I don’t feel the need to explore that field myself. As image makers we always go back to early influences. One of my really early influences on visual methodology was the documentaries of Jonathan Meades and his series called “Further Abroad”. It is actually quite a recent realization that I got watching his documentaries again.
If I get asked what I do I say I am a painter, and if anybody asks what I paint I say I paint walls.
As a teenager you started visiting Manchester to see gigs with friends. Do you have any highlights or recommendation to finish our conversation?
The last really good gig I saw in Manchester was My Bloody Valentine, but around here there is a brilliant band called Warm Digits. They met in Newcastle and the drummer, Andrew Hodson, is also here tonight. They are fantastic.
Codeworks is part of the Manchester Histories Festival (3 – 12 June) and will be on show at PAPER until 25 June 2016.
Narbi Price is a Newcastle-based artist and a prizewinner of the John Moores Painting Prize 2012.