Canvassing support: the un-painter, interior motives, and a question of breeding

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The Independent Online

Callum Innes's paintings begin with the bare canvas, or with a canvas already covered with an all-over layer of a single colour. Innes then sets about removing areas of pigment with solvents - taking out a single dot of pigment from the centre of a painting, to expose the canvas beneath, or washing-out entire sections, leaving only a ghostly tide-line of colour on the painting's margin. A snowfall of pigment, trapped in a yellowing syrup of varnish, a drizzle of lines, eroded by turps, running through a field of colour - these are both Innes's techniques and what the viewer sees on the wall. His paintings are a kind of residue, evoking natural events: weather, erosion and light.

Innes un-paints his paintings. His work is the product of a strict methodology, of everyday, practical skills, yet it is an extremely lyrical take on Minimalism. Innes might cynically be described as the acceptable face of hard-core painting. He recently failed to win the Jerwood Prize - an embarrassing middle-brow affair sponsored by Modern Painters magazine in association with Classic FM - while his work has won a considerable following in Europe and the United States. Work such as his is unlikely to win the Turner. Although he has filled two rooms of the Tate with dazzling paintings, such works don't come over well on TV: there is no discernible image, and the minutiae of his resonant surfaces are incomprehensible in close-up. Innes's paintings are all about colour and surface, the presence and absence of pigment: things television and the quick-fix soundbite cannot hope to render well. Some art is just not amenable to short attention- span viewing and the voice-over, or to an age which prefers spectacle and thundering social issues to the quieter risks and pleasures of late- modernist abstraction.


Corps etranger, (Foreign Body) is Mona Hatoum's video-installation in which viewers stand in a darkened, enclosed space watching a camera snaking its way into her most intimate bodily parts, to the accompaniment of a slooshing, gurgling soundtrack. It was a big hit at this year's Venice Biennale, at her recent show at the Pompidou Centre in Paris and in the Tate's recent exhibition "Rites of Passage". Here it is again, installed in conjunction with Light Sentence, a dramatically lit cul-de-sac of wire cages. In between the cages (which look like they belong in a vivisection lab, or in a battery-chicken coop), hangs a bare lightbulb on a motorised pulley. Slowly rising and falling, the light casts vertiginous, expressionist shadows around the work, inducing feelings of nausea and thoughts of imprisonment and torture.

Born in 1952 in Beirut, Mona Hatoum found herself inadvertently exiled in Britain in 1975, and she has remained here since. Her work has always been concerned with matters of identity, and her earlier performances were gruelling explorations of vulnerability, voyeurism and the limits and boundaries of self-hood. Claiming to want to "comment on the state of the world", Hatoum's work is nothing if not issue laden. While Damien Hirst attempts to deal with the ponderous and tragic complexities of life, so too does Hatoum. One also feels that there's more at stake here on a personal level. The trouble is, Hatoum's work - her performances, her videos, her sculptures and installations - is less arresting, her talent less copious. That's the trouble with prizes, and particularly this one; they force you to make comparative judgements that are unfair.


Mark Wallinger, the self-annointed hero, a tribe of one, photographs himself amid the throng at Wembley stadium, holding aloft a Union Jack, on which his own name is emblazoned. Self-deprecating rather than aggrandising, Wallinger takes Englishness itself, our folk heroes and sports, our heritage industry and our humour, the rigidities of our culture, as his primary subject. This is state-of-the-nation art, frequently using the metaphors of sport, and in particular horse racing, to take knowing side-swipes at the class system. It's all, of course, a matter of breeding. Wallinger, take note, is from Essex.

Delving into the eugenics of horse-breeding, he has mismatched the front and back ends of related racehorses in his realistic series of paintings Half-Brothers, and made a further series of paintings based on the registered colours of racing owners, all of whom are named Brown. In a hilarious four-screen video, he shows BBC footage of the Royal Family parading in a carriage at Ascot. Shot on four subsequent days, the film shows just how well drilled the royals are, as they doff their toppers and wave and smile to order while making their magestic, endless circuits of the course.

Wallinger's recent exhibition at the Ikon in Birmingham and at the Serpentine in London won a mixed reception: seen en masse, his work, which includes videos of Tommy Cooper and stallions at stud, paintings, objects, photographs and an actual racehorse he bought and called A Real Work of Art, can seem too bitty and diverse. We Brits prefer a more consolidated talent. But on a good day and on firm ground he could come a close second.