Terry Atkinson: Greaser Union Jack / Berlin, East Prussia and the Desert

Curated by SELECT

The exhibition at Bonington Gallery will be the first large-scale presentation of Terry Atkinson’s (b.1939) work in Britain for a number of years. It will comprise Berlin, East Prussia and the Desert, a series of drawings on paper whose individual titles often stretch to several sentences, made in 2015, and sculptures from the Grease Flag / Greaser Union Jack series, sculpture conceptualised during the late 1980’s to early 1990’s.

The drawings depict a cast of pop culture and art historical characters (such as E.T. and Goya’s ghosts) inserted within WWII Germany and Soviet Union scenes.  Atkinson’s drawings and titles conjure multiple historical subjecthoods within scenes of history, popular culture and art history. The German post-structuralist and media philosopher Friedrich Kittler wrote, “Media are not pseudopods for extending the human body. They follow the logic of escalation that leaves us and written history behind it.” (Gramophone, Film, Typewriter: 1986)

The relevance of Kittler extends beyond the self-aware condition of Berlin, East Prussia and the Desert; war and media arguably form Atkinson’s central and most consistent subjects. This statement by Kittler is particularly apt: “It has become clear that real wars are fought not for people or fatherlands, but take place between different media, information technologies, data flows.”

The Grease sculptures are made from standardised construction timber and petroleum grease, and materials including polystyrene and projection. The union jack flag form is variously stretched, deconstructed, tilted and compressed, to span monumental and minimalist geometricism and intimate modalities of identity. The work Greaser Union Jack could be read as a brute artistic realisation of historical materialism. Atkinson takes the hardware/software analogy of computer science, inserting the unstable “software” of axle grease into sturdy timber “hardware”.

On the occasion of ATKINSON, in 2014 at Yale Union, Portland, USA, curator Richard Birkett wrote: “The hardware frames the movement of the grease as a figurative gesture, mimicking the convention of the accident in abstract painting, those marks made without rules, without any notion of “the painting” preceding the painting.”

Atkinson puts it simply: “The greased troughs generate quite a lot of decorative and extraneous incident.”

Atkinson sets out a Greasing manifesto of sorts in Mute (Copenhagen, Denmark: Galleri Prag, 1988, p. 22):

1) Grease the axle.

2) Grease the Henry Moore Medallion for proper art behavior.

3) Grease seriousness.

4) Grease the European Treasure House.

5) Grease The Wall.

6) Grease The Diamond.

7) Grease the Brit.

8) Grease Rock n’ roll.

9) Grease consciousness.

10) Grease minimalism.

11) Grease God (in John Milton’s vision heaven was landscaped—perhaps by God himself! It is rumoured God is still a he!)

12) Grease language (in John Milton’s vision God spoke—from whom did God learn the language?)

13) Grease the autonomous surface.

14) Grease the materials of art.

15) Grease the practice.

Terry Atkinson (b.1939 in Thurnscoe, Yorkshire, UK, currently living in Leamington Spa) is a seminal British conceptual artist. In 1963-4, he co-founded the seminal artists group Fine Artz with John Bowstead, Roger Jeffs and Bernard Jennings . In 1968, he co-founded the influential conceptual group Art and Language with David Bainbridge, Michael Baldwin and Harold Hurrell. Since leaving the group in 1974, he has exhibited art under his own name, including at the 1984 Venice Biennial. In 1985 he was nominated for the Turner Prize. Atinkson’s work is of acute relevance to the current political and cultural state of the UK and Europe, and unfolding global events and structures.

The exhibition has been curated by SELECT. SELECT was founded by artists Matthew Richardson and Anna Susanna Woof to provide an exceptional peer-led platform for under-exposed, financially unsupported and established mid-career artists together in an ethical, cooperative model. Their most recent exhibition, Visuals, was a collaboration between Nicolas Ceccaldi and Georgie Nettel. WOULD RATHER POST THIS VIDEO THAN NO VIDEO, 2019, featured video works by Louis Backhouse, Megan Boyle, Morag Keil and Cathy Wilkes. In June 2019, SELECT held the painting exhibition Untitled (Sex) with Merlin James.

Image credit: Point leaders of a Soviet patrol in the outer suburbs of Berlin. In front, an ET, frozen shitless (do extraterrestrials shit?) waits for its ship to deliver it out of way of the Soviet juggernaut. April 1945. ( for that matter, do extraterrestrials experience fear or possess the concept of war?)  Pencil and coloured pencil on paper, 420 x 297cm, 2015.

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Sat 5 Dec 2020 - Sat 23 Jan 2021


Monday – Friday, 10 am – 5 pm; Saturday, 11 am – 3 pm

Coming Soon

Oct 2020 - Nov 2020
Sophie Cundale: The Near Room
Dec 2020 - Jan 2021
Terry Atkinson: Greaser Union Jack / Berlin, East Prussia and the Desert
Feb 2021 - Mar 2021
Reactor: Here, the Gold Ones meet
Mar 2021 - May 2021
The Annotated Reader