In this article, TNG member Clive Bryant explains the story behind his painting GOAT — Greatest Of All Time, which was selected for the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) Prize Exhibition 2020.
It was the spat between the footballers Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, where Ronaldo’s gesture implying he had a goatee beard went viral, that I first became aware of GOAT being used as a hashtag on social media for Greatest Of All Time. I love ambiguity and I thought it would be humorous to create a piece of art that played #GOAT against an image of an actual goat; in much the same way that searching for images of Francis Bacon using #bacon brings up images of people’s breakfasts!
Considering the GREATEST of all time led me towards religious iconography: gold leaf, works of devotion, and so forth. Gold leaf, applied using a water gilding technique, is incredibly involved and consequently those wonderful ancient alter pieces were such works of devotion. At the same time, it gives a much better and hard-wearing finish than the more straightforward oil gilding. If the viewer gets close to the gold, they’ll see their own reflection: in a way, everyone is the greatest of all time by the very nature that they are alive and unique. In keeping with the notion of “greatest”, I used the best I could get — 23.5ct gold leaf — for a deep, lustrous finish that has been burnished for reflection and a feeling of being solid gold.
The realistic painting of the goat head plays against a more graphic backdrop. It sits in a perfect circle, representing the sun, from which coloured beams radiate (radiating lines were often used in religious pieces too). By design, the red bands are more matt than the glossy iridescent blue. This causes the beams to react to the light differently as one moves around the painting, varying in perceived lightness and darkness along each length (Mark Rothko exploited this property of paint in his large colour-field paintings) and this leads to an interesting optical effect. As documented by Dr Margaret Livingstone, we have two visual systems: “greyscale” (i.e. lightness/darkness) and “colour”. Where we see a difference in both greyscale and colour, we see a distinct edge; but where greyscale matches and colour differs, our “colour” brain sees an edge, whereas our “greyscale” part doesn’t. This creates a visual vibration, so as one looks at the goat head, the beams in our peripheral vision appear to jump around.
Then we come to the letters. I’ve long been intrigued by how words and letters are a human construct. They are only a “thing” because we have decided that they are. G, O, A and T are human inventions; in and of themselves, they mean nothing. It is only down to an agreement amongst ourselves that we attribute a sound to each symbol, and when you put those sounds together, it creates a single noise that English speakers accept to represent the animal we know of as a goat. In any case, in this piece, they spell “go” and “at” — another level of ambiguity, and one where it’s hard to see those two words, due to the image of a goat forcing our brains to see the letters as one word.
The font is essentially from the Hollywood sign. The twentieth century saw the rise of celebrity culture, and nowhere is that more pronounced than in the media-fuelled fake world of Hollywood. I spent two summers in West Hollywood, commuting daily to Hollywood itself, and the area is nothing like how we think it is from the movies!
In total, this painting took a couple of months to complete. The introduction of water-gilded gold leaf meant it had to be meticulously planned, requiring a very process-driven approach. The end result, however, makes all that effort worthwhile.
Although I now live in Milton Keynes, I was born in Birmingham and lived there until my twenties. Consequently, I still feel a Brummie at heart and therefore the RBSA is an organisation I’m very keen to support. I enjoyed some great short workshops there a number of years ago, and have had other pieces of mine accepted for past exhibitions. I was absolutely delighted to have GOAT selected for this year’s prize exhibition, alongside some fabulous work from other selected artists. I am truly humbled and I sincerely hope the exhibition isn’t unduly affected by restrictions due to COVID.
Article by Clive Bryant for The Net Gallery.
The RBSA Prize Exhibtion runs until 21 November 2020 at the RBSA Gallery, Birmingham. For details on how to visit, and to view all of the artwork online, see the RBSA website.
You can also follow Clive on Instagram @clivebryantartist
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