Terry Atkinson made his debut in the 1960s as a conceptual artist, founding the Art & Language collective from which he would leave in 1974 to devote himself to a medium seemingly far removed from the current he had helped to found: painting. Atkinson adopts an iconic register close to that of socialist realism but with a parodic and surreal, when not grotesque, approach that helps to infuse his work with a critical approach far removed from any celebratory ideology.
A recurring theme throughout his production is the representation of war: from World War I to World War II, from Vietnam to Lebanon to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The long titles of the works, an element inherited from conceptual practice, become part of the work itself and contextualises it. The canvas exhibited here is titled Botched-up art work depicting intra sexual, intra working, class sadistic acts under the Emergency Power Act, the two acts undertaken in the service of imperialism; in it, Atkinson depicts a trench where two soldiers in the foreground are engaged in a heinous hand-to-hand fight not only between opposite armies but also social classes.
Terry Atkinson (1939, Thurnscoe, UK) lives and works in Leamington Spa. A British visual artist and theorist, during his long career he has challenged the traditional conception of aesthetics in art, criticising the conventions of production and fruition of art. “If the work I have made over the last 40 years,” Atkinson maintains, “has one characteristic that runs through it, it is a concern to make a critique of art rather than a celebration of it”. After studying at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, he emigrated to New York in 1967 where he met minimalist, conceptual and land artists such as Sol LeWitt, Dan Graham, Carl Andre and Robert Smithson. In 1968 he founded the conceptual collective Art & Language together with Michael Baldwin, Harold Hurrell and David Bainbridge; together they exhibited at documenta 5 (1972) curated by Harald Szeemann. He left the collective in 1974 to pursue a solo career. He exhibited in 1984 at the 41st Venice Art Biennale. In 1985 he was a finalist at the Turner Prize.