Iain Hetherington’s paintings reflect on a world where access to technology has allowed everyone to produce their own imagery. He deals with the problems of authenticity, value and validation in our contemporary, digital culture. His paintings are made in groups, but use those elements of studio work, like forgetfulness, applying paint without care and retaining flaws, that can come as a surprise during painting. The resulting differences between individual paintings are thus small but important.
In the series of paintings Diversified Cultural Workers (begun 2007), figures or ‘characters’ are formed from a mass of smears and paint marks, reminiscent of those on a traditional painter’s palette. But the figures are adorned by the baseball caps and gold chains of hip-hop and so-called ‘ned’ cultures. Rather than clichéd pictures of underprivileged social groups, these characters may be cultural administrators dressed in street garb. It is a strange reversal of working-class culture’s appropriation of the upper-class clothes of country gents. It is hard to tell if they are just ‘getting down’ with street culture or if access policies have reached their logical conclusion with galleries and theatres overrun by a wild mob, fighting, spraying graffiti and looting.
In a new series of works, There’s Wally (begun 2011), the presence of the internationally recognisable comic-book character ‘Wally’ is suggested by the appearance of his signature stripy hat and cane. In Hetherington’s paintings Wally appears in empty dramas, ‘fight clouds’ and abstractions or doodled, pseudo-analytic diagrams, rather than the crowd scenes familiar from the books. In these works, Hetherington shifts attention to the art world itself, presenting the artist’s image as a product of a series of networks where high visibility is more important than quality. The dream of everyone being an artist reaches its conclusion as a banal reality … everyone is an artist, anyone can wear Wally’s hat, but where did art go?