Paint Jobs

A paint job is a working class term that describes an economic work of painting by a contracted painter/decorator that emphasises paint’s cosmetic capacity to cover up, to decorate, to provide surface appeal and a high finish. A “good paint job” conceals its brushstrokes: the customer does not want to see dribbles and accidental marks nor the labour involved in their housepainting or car repair. A paint job is traditionally a working-class occupation of skilled artisans or craftsmen.  Women too do paint jobs of a different order: A woman does not want her face paint to reveal itself as paint, or her nails to be anything less than perfect, or her interior walls to reveal streaks or see the older, underlying layers beneath the finish.

Pre-modern Western painting – portraits, history painting and so on – incorporated the values of ‘high finish’ and commissioned painterly mastery – reaching an apogee in 18thC Rococo. Rococo is painting as make-up: painting that decorates, glamourises, conceals in meretricious technique, aristocratic surface sheen and dazzle.  Modernism in the E20thC turned painting inward, away from social relations to that between the artist and the canvas, to its medium. Modernist painting revealed its processes; so that, in artistic terms ‘a good paint job’ is more likely to reveal than conceal traces of its painterly progress. Modernist painting gloried in its messy accidents, serendipities and spontaneities, artists allowed the paint to ‘speak’ in the characteristic voices of its medium: in colour, in fluid dribbles, splats, transparencies, impasto textures and revealed layers. The body, soul and spirit of the artist were read off from the succesful manipulations of these gestural marks as psychological symptoms of real artiststic activity and as visual signs of a genuine work of art. Modernism despised ‘finish’, decoration, surface and ‘meretricious’ technique.

But such ‘painterly’ qualities in a post-digital age, can easily become clichés in turn. The ‘truth’ of the soul and bodily gestural mark of the artist can be simulated and insincere; reactivated in advertising and incorporated back into the craftsman’s ‘paint job’ as another technique. The apparently random and ‘artless’ brushstroke, the rough gestural opacities revealing layers beneath, the emotional manipulations of the splat, the drip and the dribble have become the stock in trade of the painters technique. Such clichés are reflected in digitised painterly ‘brushes’ – in pre- formulated spots, splats, strokes and painterly marks that now available as stock-in-trade tools that simulate real painting.

Clement Greenberg – that demonised figure of Modernist painting – held the notion of painting as a kind of holding operation; a maintaining artistic values against prevailing challenges to art … using the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself.  The notion of ‘the paint job’ returns to painting’s skills and techniques from many crafts as well as those of traditional art. A paint job is good value, and is within the capacity of the interested and the committed. The notion of a good paint job rejects the historically legitimsed bourgeois and aristocratic values of art that mystfy and add that huge extra layer of surplus value to paintings in global art markets.

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