From an interview:
Anne Downes: Most of your art is about our concept of reality?
Geoff Bunn: What is called my conceptual art, yes. That is chiefly about our ideas of reality. My paintings by contrast are just that; they are paintings. They are what you might call traditional art.
AD: Even so, they are realist paintings.
GB: Well they certainly aren't abstract. Abstract art is such a badly done idea. Matisse said that you cannot start with the abstract because you have not abstracted from anything. You may arrive there in which case fine. But you cannot start there. Sadly too many painters have not taken that lesson on board. They begin with abstract and remain there.
AD: Turning to your conceptual work. How do you define reality?
GB: In several ways. First, there is the reality that most people have to deal with in their day to day lives. Earning a wage, paying rent or a mortgage, shopping. That is very much reality for most people. The world doesnt have to be like that but it is. The many work harder all the time so that the few can enjoy their luxury.
AD: Like art?
GB: Yes. Art is a luxury that most people cannot fit into their lives. It is a shame. But they have much more genuine concerns such as paying those bills. To most people art is more or less an irrelevance. And understandably so. All the same it isnt like owning a yacht, it is something anyone can do.
AD: How else do you define reality?
GB: Reality is also something that is given to people. Almost against their will. So, for example, most people no longer believe in a God. Their own lives endlessly suggest to them that there must be - has to be! - something more to the world than this. They want it too. But the idea of that something being a God is no longer the official story. They now have to accept that they live in a Godless world instead and that makes many people unhappy.
AD: Yet only so many centuries ago the official story in Europe was quite different.
GB: Excactly. Reality is what we are told it is. But reality changes to suit current trends or ideas.
AD: Is there a less mystical example?
GB: Yes. Take the fashion world. Or films. Celebrity is very popular now. Newspapers dont report news, they dont talk about what matters, they fill their pages with photographs of the rich and currently famous. We see those photographs and want to share that world. The glamour. The money. We even wonder how it is that these people are so much better looking and healthier than the rest of us...
AD: Not always!
GB: No. Not always. The newspapers also enjoy showing a Celebrity when they are ill or looking dishevelled. But in the main they portray these people as living some kind of 'superior' life. But they are not really living a superior life. They may have a lot of money and that makes life much easier. But the basics are the same. They go to the toilet and feel ill just like the rest of us. They eat. Drink. Have good days and bad days. And of course even their photographs are staged or altered to make sure they usually look their very best. It is all a story. It isnt real. It is a fake version of their reality. But ordinary folk buy into it.
AD: So what you are saying is that reality, in this sense, is not something that is 'real' but something that is 'made out to be real'. Something that is a story. And something that is then pushed as if it were 'real'.
GB: Yes. Exactly. And that is the case whether we are talking about God, fashion, wars or almost anything else. Reality is a story someone else tells. It ought not to be. It ought to be based on our own experiences. It is up to us, as individuals, to find out what reality is. It isnt something we should accept from the mouths of others.
AD: And that applies in art too?
GB: In all walks of life, yes. Of course. In art Duchamp said 'not every Rembrandt is the work of genius'. And he was right. Duchamp turned the art world inside out 100 years ago. With his insights things could have changed. But of course his words are still largely ignored today. Much the same, in certain key respects, could be said about Einstein or going further back philosophers like Kant. These are people who have offered fundamental changes to our world but for one reason or another their key messages have been ignored.
AD: Why do you think Duchamps words are largely ignored?
GB: Becuase the art world is a business. First and foremost. It is not really about art per se but about investments. And so the last thing they want to admit is that not every Van Gogh or Renoir is any good. They have to create a reality of their own in order to sustain their investments.
AD: You have always argued that the art gallery does more harm to art than it can ever do good?
GB: The museum too. They acquire these investments and then laud them. Even when, quite clearly, some of the stuff they buy is little more than junk. The kind of thing that Van Gogh for example would have thought "Shit. I have spoiled that one" and then tossed aside.
AD: I have to ask you if you have a specific example.
GB: Yes. I do. Take a look at some of Turners paintings. However majestic and timeless his landscapes and history pieces may be many of his figures are awful. Truly awful. A first year art student would be given a low grade for producing the same. But the galleries, the art world, they have to pretend that even when he got stuff wrong - his figures - he was somehow still showing genius. It is nonsense. Genius come and goes. Of course basic skills have to be learned whether you are a painter or a surgeon. And of course some people do it better than others. Some may even be touched with moments of genius much more often than others. But, as Duchamp said...
AD: Not every Rembrandt is the work of genius.
GB: Exactly.
AD: So your own work, your conceptual work, is aimed at our idea of reality. The idea that reality is a given and it ought not to be. That it should be something we work out for ourselves. And in part you do this by just making fun of the art world - your Dix Semblaient Monts for example or the Cartazini work. But the downside to this is that some ordinary people do not understand your work for what it is and are also taken in.
GB: Yes. That is a downside. I suppose. But then the whole point is to look, learn and discover for yourself what reality is. So even if the way the message is delivered can annoy some people, it remains a good message. And after all I'm not making landmines. I've never asked anyone for money for any of my art. My conceptual work is primarily a philosophical lesson. People need to be wider awake in this world. It could be a beautiful place.
AD: Indeed it could. And that also links to another aspect of your criticism doesnt it? In terms of art you freely admit that art is largely irrelevant to most people today but argue that it should not be so.
GB: That's right. Art has been stolen from ordinary people by the businesses, the galleries and the like, who tell us 'this is good art, that is bad art'. But they have no place telling people that. As I have said, they only do it to protect their investments. Art, in the sense that we all do it as children, is something that should stay with us. Throughout our lives. It would be better for someone to sit and draw or paint a picture in the evening than watch TV. Similarily we ought to hang our paintings and those of our friends and family on our walls. Instead we pay money to hang a poster up or we put up nothing at all.
AD: You see it as therapeutic. A buffer against the modern world.
GB: I think it can help yes. It wont pay those bills and for most people it could never do more than just amuse them. Help pass a few hours here and there. Life is harsh for most people. But yes, it is certainly more fulfilling to paint, or read, or walk, than it is to sit in front of the television and be told what to think or feel.
AD: People enjoy doing art as children and then give it up.
GB: Yes. That is true. And that in part is down to being told that what they are doing isnt any good. But what does that mean? To my mind if you enjoy doing something which doesnt hurt other people, then by definition I would say it is good.
AD: Turning to your paintings. Do you still have a studio in France?
GB: No. I am hoping to get one this year. But I still have a little studio in Sweden.
AD: Many of your paintings are huge. Two and a half metres or more...
GB: What I have called 'Interior Landscapes' are planned to be huge, yes. But so far the largest painting I have done in that series is about one and a half metres. I want the studio in France so that I can scale those works up onto the full size canvases. In the meantime I work on smaller canvases.
AD: Didnt your own painting begin with the abstract back in the 1980s?
GB: Yes. Like so many others I made that lazy mistake. But I didnt stop there. Without planning it I more or less worked backwards through forms of Cubism. Finally I painted a large version of Picasso's 1908 Dryad. Since then I have found myself copying work by Cezanne and now Gauguin.
AD: They are not just copies. I have seen your painting based on Gauguin's Yellow Christ, it is clearly based on it. But the theme is very different as is the setting.
GB: Yes. That is true. Though I have just copied another Gauguin.
AD: You have also copied some paintings by the Swedish artist Sigrid Hjerten?
GB: Yes I have. Two large canvases. I found Hjerten when living in Lessebo in Sweden. I admire her work a good deal. Copying is about learning. Whether Gauguin or Hjerten I believe it makes sense to try and copy works done by others whilst waiting, in a manner of speaking, for your own ideas or work to resurface.
AD: What are your thoughts on the idea of orginality in art?
GB: It is impossible.
AD: Could you elaborate?
GB: New materials may come along. The computer for example which I use a good deal to prepare a painting. And those can offer a kind of originality I suppose. But the idea that art has to offer something new, remorselessly so, is just nonsense. There has been virtually nothing new in art since Dadaism.
AD: You believe the whole idea of originality castrates the art world. I think that was the word you once used.
GB: Yes. I did. Because it does. It castrates the art world. Why on earth should artists not revisit Cezanne or Impressionism or anything else? It would be wonderful to encourage and exhibit new painters in the style of Turner or Constable. Why not? They may do it better. Why does it have to be 'original'? Instead of seeing such painters we are seeing unmade beds or a light being switched on and off. What boring nonsense that is. The Dadaists could and would have done the same 100 years ago. No wonder most people are turned off by art.