Guy Denning is a tireless worker. He has a blog, denningdrawing.blogspot.co.uk, to which he posts a new piece of art each day. The tag-line is ‘art – social dysfunction celebrated as ritual.’ It gives you an insight into how he sees art. For him, it’s something ritualistic. It’s capable of producing something akin to religious ecstasy. But there is more to it than this. Denning would like to see reform, particularly in British politics. He’d like to see change. As he knows, no change will be wrought if one stays still too long, takes a back seat and lets someone else do it. Art is capable of producing something akin to radical change. His paintings, political in their nature, reflect this.
A key part of the urban art scene in Bristol – of which the infamous political activist and fellow artist Banksy is also a member – as well the founder of the Neomodernist group, Denning has a bite to him. He viewed the state of contemporary art in 1990’s Britain dimly, believing that the direction it took was too heavily controlled and monitored by art institutions and state supported organisations. It led him to form the neomodern group, whose purpose was also to reform architecture and rescue it from the complexities that postmodernism had wrought upon it. This courage and energy to fight had been instilled in him from a young age, when he was turned down by a wealth of art colleges in the 1980’s. He was told that he needed to be more abstract, more subtle in regards how he confronted politics as a subject matter. He was too literal, they said, too figurative, too ferocious. Instead of listening, he refined his technique. Instead of giving up, he learned to become resilient, disciplined, focused. He taught himself how to be an artist.
He paints and draws. Rather than suppress completely his figurative inhibitions, as advised by the art colleges, he’s developed into a prominent figurative artist who has recently focused on drawing haunted, nameless figures with a brilliant level of draughtsmanship, in a lot of ways reminiscent of the Austrian portrait artist Egon Schiele, who painted hysterical, expressive people. Schiele was a radical figurative artist who would often deliberately leave his figures looking unfinished, looking more like sketches, with gaps in the contours of their face, their bodies only partly filled in with spontaneous colour. The colour of the background – be it black, white, rust, ochre, cobalt and so on – would often merge with the colour of the subject’s skin, consuming them, becoming a part of them. Denning works in the same way with his drawings. There is no nuance in the tonalities. A piece will rarely contain more than two colours, be they pink and white, or rose-grey and brown, and so on. Yet there is so much density in his textures, so much fluidity in his lines.
Unlike Schiele, who sought only to convey a certain psychology, Denning charges his work with politics. His paintings are more nuanced. They are powerful images, often accompanied by a politically motivated title, such as ‘And Our Elected Hypocrites Rush And Pay Homage At The Pussy Riot Altar Piece’, and ‘Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Rioter.’ In 2011, he unveiled paintings that interpreted Dante’s Divine Comedy. He related the story to modern Britain, exposing what he perceived was his nations inherent political issues. Although he now resides in France, he still has strong connections with his home country, and is still widely acknowledged as one of Britain’s leading urban artists. If art-politics ever needed a voice, Denning is one to provide it. He’s the kind of guy who won’t back down.