7. Fontana redux
Modern Masters in the twenty-first century, remixed by Jamie Shovlin.
Fontana's use of art as book covers went full circle in 2003-05 when the conceptual artist Jamie Shovlin turned the covers back into art. Shovlin had recently
graduated from Oliver Bevan's alma mater the Royal College of Art, but unlike Bevan, Shovlin painted the covers of all the books (except Adorno)
as drippy watercolours.
Jamie Shovlin, Fontana Modern Masters, 2003-05 (ten of forty-eight are shown).
But Shovlin did not simply reproduce the covers, as the drips reveal, for the title of each book is missing and the paintings themselves are untitled. This, the
artist later explained, 'empties the book of its content', a sleight-of-hand which decouples the content from the cover and thus restores the latter to
its original status as art.
Watercolour and ink on paper, 28 x 19 cm.
This game of covers and contents continued when the paintings were shown at Riflemaker, London, in April-May 2005, for a 'Note to the Reader' at
the front of the exhibition catalogue took the cut-up concept of Bevan's covers and applied it
to the catalogue's contents:
The contents of this book have been arranged to offer the reader
a choice of how to view its pages. The text can be read in a conventional
manner, presenting an exchange between the artist and the writer, Martin
Holman. Alternatively, or additionally, the pages can be removed to assemble
a larger composite image. One side of each page reproduces a section of
a 'map' of the research undertaken in the Fontana Modern Masters project.
Together these individual leaves form the complete map. The book, however,
functions at the reader's discretion.
Riflemaker exhibition catalogue, 2005. Click the catalogue to see inside.
However, Shovlin did not stop there, for the original books listed ten forthcoming titles which had not been published, and this led him to wonder how their covers
would have looked. To find out he created a 'Fontana Colour Chart' and a scoring system that, like his paintings, was deliberately flawed. By applying
this system to the published books Shovlin was able to 'deduce' the ten 'lost' covers which he also painted, thereby completing the series.
Shovlin's set of ten lost covers, 2003-05. Watercolour and ink on paper, 28 x 19 cm.
Shovlin's interlocutor Martin Holman likened the method to filling in the spaces reserved for undiscovered elements in the periodic table, though by the
artist's own admission the method was 'without any debt to objectivity', which may explain why Freud scored 632 points while Popper
got the wooden spoon with a meagre 125.
Jamie Shovlin, Fontana Colour Wheel, 2004-05.
Unlike his paintings of the published books, the ten lost covers all have titles, as do the paintings. The inference appears to be that if the absence of titles
empties books of their content then non-existent books have no content and can thus retain their titles. However, appearances can be deceptive and this
interpretation may be flawed.
Giclée print, 60 x 60 cm. Edition of 5.
Given the flaws in Shovlin's project and Fontana's original series (eleven covers in the first set of ten, nine
in the second set, eight in the third) it is interesting to note that the set of ten lost covers omits four forthcoming titles which were also not published. So did
Shovlin overlook these, or was it a further deliberate flaw?
The 'lost' lost covers
Perhaps the answer may be found in Shovlin's Various Arrangements, an exhibition of seventeen new Fontana Modern Masters paintings at Haunch of
Venison, London, in April-May 2012.
Jamie Shovlin, Various Arrangements, 2011-12 (five of seventeen are shown).
For these large canvases Shovlin used a new 'Acrylic Variations Colour Wheel' and a similar scoring system to his drippy watercolours of 2003-05.
Acrylic and pencil on canvas, 210 x 130 cm.
Jamie Shovlin, Fontana Modern Masters (Acrylic Variations Colour Wheel), 2011-12.
The paintings are new versions of Shovlin's ten lost covers plus Benjamin, Matisse and the titles that were published after Adorno,
but Erikson is missing and there is still no Ho. The absence of Adorno is intriguing too, since a black and white image of it as a drippy,
titled watercolour appears in the exhibition catalogue.
Giclée print, 136 x 136 cm. Edition of 5.
This suggests Shovlin painted an eleventh lost cover some time after his Riflemaker show, although Adorno was of course not 'lost' but
'last' (with a James Lowe cover in 1984) and the catalogue makes no reference to the painting. So does it exist?
Jamie Shovlin, Various Arrangements, 2011-12 (five of thirty-four are shown).
Perhaps the most that may be said is it that Shovlin's Modern Masters raise more questions than they answer, which presumably is just what the artist intended.
Watercolour and ink on paper, 35 x 24 cm.
Haunch of Venison exhibition catalogue, 2012.
Click the catalogue to see inside the show.