Martin McGinn’s paintings at The Piper Gallery, in Fitzrovia, are visually attractive, if perhaps not conceptually heavyweight. His paintings depict art books and pages from art books – mostly of the coffee table picture book variety – against a background much like a table.
The Warhol is lying askance, the pretty / bubble-gum-sick contrast of pink and blue dominating the field, with a wedge of viridian at the top completing the effect. Very pop.
The Bauhaus book is all about reflection (in fact, many of the books are on reflective surfaces), set upon a glossy wooden table as one might find in a wealthy Mitteleuropeen office decorated tastefully with Marcel Breuer B3s. The reflection itself is a sensuous red that, jarringly, overrides the grain of the table; there is an odd horizon line that almost makes this look like an enormous poster advertising the Bauhaus, installed in a big field.
The Rothko book recalls the reds and orange-yellows, and scumbled textures, of the great man’s classic paintings.
The overall effect is likeable as art-on-the-wall. Furthermore, by emphasising and re-contextualising the visuals of these art books and catalogues, he makes us perhaps consider again those coffee-table books that fill our own shelves, and perhaps are rarely opened. In my reading of the works, his painting also emphasises the cheapness (in the sense of quality) of art books, their essence as mass-media, and perhaps even the slow irrelevance of even art-books in the digital age. Put it another way, these aren’t expensive, lovely, small-run books from obscure German presses – they are the “art for the masses” books found in a Waterstone’s.
However, this is possibly reading more into the work than exists. I’d end by comparing him to other artists who work with the idea of a book: Steve Wolfe, Simon Morley, Carol Bove, and Matthew Higgs. Of these, I’ve only seen Steve Wolfe in person, and his meticulous reproductions of books – cover, spine, back – are lovely as objects, the more so that they are made out of cardboard, and are often produced using the same techniques actually used for book production. His work incidentally is also very visual, like McGinn’s, while the others above take a somewhat more conceptual approach. Bottom line, McGinn’s paintings are nice as paintings, but don’t really do much besides look good on the wall.