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Discourse Project Honorary Research Associates

The Honorary Research Associate of the Discourse Project is a role annually bestowed upon a practioner by Estelle Thompson, Lecturer in Graduate Painting.  As director of the Discourse Project, Estelle leads the Honorary Research Associate to investigate a particular strand of research on the experience of painting. To date, this research focus is being developed in conjunction with William Stein, Honorary Research Associate 2014, to explore a series of dichotomies: Material/Transformation; Irony/Sincerity; Experience/Analysis; Doubt/Belief; Conscious/Subconscious; Craft/Art; Obedience/Rebellion.

The Honorary Research Associate 2016 is Rose Davey.

Rose’s research will explore the relationship between contemporary and Pre 1900 Painting. This will expand upon on a series of Lectures delivered to Slade Grad Painting students over the last five years, which have discussed Pre 1900 painting  in London’s National collections, the most recent focussing on the 15th century painter Carlo Crivelli.

The works, such as those in the National Gallery, are among the paintings Rose returns to again and again as part of her own research as an artist. However her engagement with these works does not manifest itself through a shared subject matter; it is the artist’s use of the frame and the organisation of the painted surface that fuels her curiosity as a painter.

Rose’s recent work continues as a meditation on the object on which it appears. This is almost always a rectangle, an essential shape on which to work rather than an accepted one.

The paintings have yet to rid themselves of the pictorial restrictions enforced by the rectangle. Unable to exist without a frame that echoes their shape, the composition of works struggle to reference anything other than themselves. Colour is the only element that is liberated from the instruction of the rectangle. Yet the paintings she continually returns to do not share her own minimal aesthetic, most are from centuries past

During her time as The Honorary Research Associate it is Rose’s intention to better understand her relationship to the art of the past within the context of her current painting practice.


Paper (2013), acrylic and emulsion paint on plywood panel, 30 x 40 x 4cm each. Francisco de Zurbaran, Saint Francis in Meditation, (1635-9),  oil on canvas, 152 x 99cm



An Exhibition and Symposium surrounding the concept of Faith
March 2017, Austin Forum, Hammersmith

In conclusion to my time as HRA, I put together and chaired a panel of influential speakers from different areas of expertise to discuss notions of ‘faith’ during a two hour symposium attended by Slade Graduate painters and staff.

Faith Symposium Invitation

Faith Symposium Invitation

Faith Symposium Panel

Faith Symposium Panel

From left to right, David Gryn, Ted Dwane, Lord Dennis Stevenson, Rose Davey

I also worked closely alongside Estelle Thompson and Slade students to put together an exhibition of responses to the notion of faith, hung within one day and exhibited the next.

Faith, installation

Faith, installation

A Guide to Six Paintings in the National Gallery London / Identifying the Artist’s Subject Matter in Fifteenth Century European Painting

March 2017

I also produced a printed publication to conclude the research I had undertook  at the National Gallery, London. This took the form of a guide and essay, which made the distinction between the ‘artists subject matter’ and the ‘depicted subject matter’.

The Courtauld Gallery Visit 12th May 2016

Myself and second year Post Grad Painting student Maria Farrar lead a visit to the Courtauld Gallery’s permanent collection, attended by Lisa Milroy, Estelle Thompson and post grad painting students.

The visit came a week after I had delivered a lecture to students on Gustave Courbet, which focused on the revolutionary nature of his work in terms of his subject matter. The works observed in the Courtauld were therefore discussed in light of the progress of Courbet, who had thrust representations of contemporary life onto gallery walls on a scale usually reserved for history painting, and in a manner that retained the reality of his subject. Courbet refused to idealize or moralize his subjects in order to qualify them as fine art and ensure them appropriate as museum fodder. In turn this led to many controversies throughout his career, but it also gave other artists the confidence to turn their gaze to the contemporary world, and to record it in a manner that reflected their own interests rather than accepted notions of taste.

During the course of a couple of hours in the Courtauld we observed and discussed the following works:

Similarly to the National Gallery visit, these paintings were observed in terms of their subject matter. I began the conversation with reference to Manet and Pissarro’s work. Manet’s A Bar at the Foilies-Bergere, was in part discussed in terms of how its subject matter is assigned meaning when activated by the presence and participation of the viewer. We have a choice. We assume the role of consumer reflected in the glass or we refuse to be cast in this role, and interpret this element of the painting as unconnected to our position in front of the canvas. I firmly believe that Manet employs the viewer as a catalyst to the rest of the work. Through our presence we are responsible for the melancholic look of Suzon, her silent private alienation in contrast to the bustling noisy scene of Parisian night life reflected in the mirror behind. But of course some disagreed. Like so many other great masterpieces, this work remains eternally relevant; avoiding any absolute explanation.

In contrast to the rich subject matter of Manet, laden with possible interpretations, Pissarro’s Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich, had been described as a painting without subject matter. This work was discussed in terms of the context of its time. If we were to come across this work today, without any knowledge of who it was by and when it was painted, how would we negotiate it as an image? How do we discover meaning? How do we identify quality within such a work? Does the mundane and ordinary nature of the paint indicate a revolution within the context of the time? Pissarro organised the first and subsequent Impressionist shows and provided an alternative to the remote, neoclassical, academic work accepted into the Paris Salon. Pissarro and his contemporaries were scorned and ridiculed by the art establishment, yet now they are perhaps the public’s most cherished movement of painters. This sway in public opinion makes it even more important to identify their relevance in terms of contemporary practice, in our attempt to locate the intention behind their painted vision.

Maria led the visual analysis of Cezanne and Modigiliani’s paintings and focused on the complex nature of Cezanne’s work, and his interpretation of the world; rooted in a highly personal logic, which reveals itself in parallel strokes and separations of colour. The subject matter becomes removed from the subject itself, and instead transfers to the process of paint. It is no longer about what the eye sees, it is the artists analysis of what the eye sees that is important.

Finally Maria discussed Modigliani’s Female Nude, in reference to the simplified nature of his interpretation of the figure. So much of his subject matter is described through his instantly recognisable visual language, constructed from fluid marks that carve into compact colour beneath, which subtly shifts and describes under bold, graphic gestures.

The Courtauld’s collection of 19th and 20th Century Painting is a rich resource that charts the emergence of many great artist’s personal interpretation of the world around them. This is not considered in terms of autobiography, although many had fractured lives,  but in terms of the development of a visual language which came to represent the concerns of the artist. Meaning is always found in each artists visual vocabulary regardless of what they are painting, as discussed in front of works in the National Gallery, but in light of the invention of the camera, artists are free to develop their visual language into a subject itself, and it is Cezanne who provides the final push that opens the door onto abstraction.

National Gallery Visit 26th February 2016

Together with myself, Lisa Milroy and Estelle Thompson a group of students looked at the following works over a couple of hours.

These paintings were discussed with reference to what I understand of these works and in relation to the ideas expressed by Philip Guston on the work of Piero della Francesca. The text refers to a talk that took place in 1971 at the New York Studio School and can be found in Philip Guston: The Collected Writings, Lectures and Conversations, Ed. by Clark Coolidge, 2011, University of California Press, pages 137 -149.

When looking at these paintings students were encouraged to ponder a distinction between the artists who attempt to conceal the nature of their design, and those who reveal the nature of their design, sometimes pushing it ahead of the perceived subject matter. This was also questioned through the idea that these works contained duel subject matters: A subject matter that is illustrated in the title of the work, and the subject matter that is evident in the painting as an indication of the artists ideas and intention,and what could perhaps be defined as the ‘artists subject matter’.

The National Gallery is a wonderful resource to all painters, and it was great to see and hear that all the works discussed were highly relevant to the current concerns of students active in the studio.


The Honorary Research Associate 2015 is Sarah Macdonald.

Sarah works with paint to examine the act of looking. Her paintings explore the relationship of light and form in various ways.  Layered paint builds into lines and shapes that create a balance of structure and form, light and shadow, shallow depth and infinite distance. Creating planes of colour and nuances of tone are vital to the way the paintings are constructed.

Using drawings, the most recent work is attempting to break down the basic component of the representation of formal space in relation to objects and landscape – asking what is the minimum needed to describe space and form?

Sarah’s experience of contemporary art is involved with diverse influences. Through her research Sarah is examining how the depiction of space in painting is affected by depictions of space in other media, particularly through new technology and fiction. She is seeking to understand how painting operates within a broader context through her own practice and in the work of other artists.



Untitled (2014) Oil on paper, 21 x 28 cm unframed








Sarah Macdonald studied her MFA in Painting at the Slade graduating in 2009 after a BA at Goldsmiths in 2000. She works from a studio with Tannery Arts in Bermondsey. Selected group exhibitions include Tanlines, Group Show, curated Sarah Brown, hosted by Drawing Room, London (2014), Tannery Group Show,  Creekside Open, Selected by Dexter Dalwood, APT London (2011), Civil Twilight, Curated by Marcus Cope, B&N Gallery, London (2011),Mr Mercer, Oriel Scyharth Gallery, Glyndwr University, Wales (2011).


May 2015

Working with Lecturer Alistair Mackinven, in the first two terms of the Discourse Project 2015  I circulated a variety of texts and references to students and meeting to discuss them. 

I selected texts to share with students from those I have been studying in the library at UCL in the day a week I have set aside for the Discourse Project. These texts and other references such as gallery exhibitions and novels, raised a number of ideas concerning space within the painted plane which is an interest specific to my research trajectory. They also consider the position of painting within the context of contemporary fine art in general. Regular research workshops were held to develop ideas generated by further discussion. 

I have also strongly supported a student led crit group held regularly on Wednesday evenings to allow a platform for conversation, discourse and critique. Issues raised on Wednesday evenings have initiated the selection of further texts, which were then circulated to students. Hard copies of all these were available throughout the studios so the readers could contribute to the marginalia.

It is important to me as an artist that a relationship with discourse is initiated from a studio context. Conversation and enquiry happens within the studio and research stems from making, looking and engaging with contextualisation within a historical and contemporary position.

The discussions held as part of the Discourse Project stimulated conversation around the context of making work in a world littered with information, reference and our contemporary relationship to network culture. One specific question arising from this being – what is the specific responsibility of the artist to consider their position within this, or reject it entirely?

During these terms I have had the opportunity to attend a symposium at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam led by the artist Ed Atkins and a trip to New York during Frieze week, visiting multiple galleries and museums, including Dia Beacon. Experiences, which have influenced my reading and fed back into conversations with students and informed my own practice richly.

Reading / context has included:

  • Jan Verwoert: “Why are conceptual artists painting again? Because they  think its a good idea.” Lecture presented at Glasgow School of Art on 16th April 2010. Posted on Vimeo.
  • Painting Beside Itself, David Joselit, OCTOBER 130, Fall 2009, pp. 125–134, 2009
  • Remainder: Tom McCarthy. Published by Alma Books Ltd.
  • Painting in Silver and Noir: Q&A with Jacqueline Humphries by Paul Soto
  • Art in America April 30, 2012.
  • The Zombies: Contemporary Abstraction and its Critics by Noah Dillon
  • Friday 31st October  2014, ArtCritical.

Charline von Heyl, It’s Vot’s Behind Me That I Am (Krazy Kat), 2010.

  • Painting Space: Is the space of painting made by abstraction, illusion or the sculptural qualities of the canvas? Mark Prince, Frieze d/e, Issue 6, Autumn 2012
  • Rich Texts: Selected Writing for Art. John Kelsey. Ed. by Daniel Birnbaum and Isabelle Graw, published by Sternberg Press, 2010.

Still from James Richards, Rosebud, 2013. HD Video, 12 minutes 57 seconds. Courtesy the artist; Cabinet, London; and Rodeo, Istanbul.

  • Sculpture in the Expanded Field, Rosalind Krauss. October, Vol. 8. (Spring, 1979), pp. 30-44.
  • The Rectangular Canvas is Dead: Richard Diebenkorn and the problems of modern painting, by Jed Perl, The New Republic, September 7, 2013
  • Radicalism as Ego Ideal: Oedipus and Narcissus, Diedrich Diederichsen, E-flux, Journal #25 May 2011.