My Reality, Your Reality,
Its Reality and Shirts

Installation view of 'Happy Trails' (2019). Image courtesy The Second Act, photography by Alex Zawadzki and editing by Lydia McCaig.

Inside the remnants of a former commercial unit on a main thoroughfare in Blackburn My Reality, Your Reality, Its Reality and Shirts by John Tiney – originally scheduled to open in March – longingly faces the street, a warm glow from the works piercing the winter gloom to occasional passersby. Curated by the newly launched digital gallery The Second Act in collaboration with artist-led gallery and studio space Prism Contemporary, the exhibition acts to platform Tiney’s work to new audiences and challenge their art historical understanding.

Tiney’s practice is one of tangible experimentation and material development. Working as an art handler by trade, in recent years his output has become an ongoing exploration of painterly techniques, concepts and the limits of the medium. Here the main strands of this practice are exhibited: larger-scale canvases and smaller-scale stretched t-shirts.

The canvases immediately catch the eye. A uniform size filled with bright swathes of colour alongside screen-printed and hand-drawn imagery, what’s striking is the diversity of content and painterly techniques within each. There’s no overarching theme, the only thing tying them together cohesively is the standardised size. Ranging from (amongst other things) appropriating commercial logos and 1950s animation backgrounds, to abstracted responses to everyday situations and concerns from the artist’s life, the likes of Warhol, Saville and more broadly abstract American and European painting from the 1990s are obviously touchstones. This mixture of graphical gestures and visual content is invigorated by the artist’s relative inexperience in painting. Grouping different visual styles and motifs together in a unified, somewhat defiant, show against long held painterly classifications, he juxtaposes the rigid art historical categories of his own professional life working for blue chip galleries with the spontaneity of an experimental practice eschewing thematic borders. In doing so Tiney communicates his experience of the world with a visual language, which viewers are free to interpret however they see fit.

In contrast to the time consuming intricacy of his canvases, the t-shirt works serve as a dynamic counterpoint. Still containing a mixture of graphical languages, incorporating screen printing and hand drawing, the t-shirts collected from American thrift stores function as both echoes of his larger canvas works, and a standalone series. Wiping his brushes and hands on them whilst painting, the random build up of colours and marks are added to and worked into a form of collage before the t-shirt is stretched to (another) uniform size, creating a cohesive series. Like his canvas works, their display is configured modularly depending on the space, here charting a warm spectrum of red to yellow textile supports contrasting with the Lancastrian weather outside.

There has been a surge of visual arts public programming within Blackburn in recent years, with Prism Contemporary leading the way alongside festivals and biennials. Here The Second Act build on the work done by Prism to expose inhabitants of the town to contemporary art, but challenges their expectations and preconceptions in a subtly critical way. Tiney’s work doesn’t champion a single visual or conceptual style, but instead gives each space to exist. By exhibiting an artist who is exploring techniques at the formation of a painterly practice, traditional categories and boundaries are challenged, encouraging viewers not to be confined by outdated notions.

My Reality, Your Reality, Its Reality and Shirts, 29 Northgate, Blackburn.

The exhibition will be open to the public subject to Lancashire being removed from Tier 3 status, but is viewable digitally until 18 December here.

James Schofield is an artist-curator, PhD researcher based at the Exhibition Research Lab, and current Greater Manchester, Lancashire & Cumbria Editor for Corridor8.

Published 03.12.2020 by Lauren Velvick in Reviews

600 words