Slow, thick fingers brings together a range of contemporary practitioners to explore touch as gesture. Touch (derived etymologically from the Old French tochier, which translates to “slight attack” [3]) is understood as a communicative act expressed through the body, a specific and self-conscious gesture. Touch is ordinarily constrained by social conventions that dictate appropriate degrees of contact or distance between two bodies - and here employed primarily as a means to address the performance of painting.

The selected artists employ a range of strategies to ask how touch, or the act of touching, could make visible the daily work of the painter. Temporary works made on site by Alexis Harding and Flore Nové-Josserand question the dynamic between tactility and mark-making, articulating the particular temporal and spatial relationships of display. Damian Taylor presents recent work which foregrounds incidental details accumulated through the transport of materials to his studio, positioning the delivery service as an accidental collaborator in the development of the painted image. The protruding surfaces of John Wallbank’s work appear to anticipate the (unwanted) hand of the viewer, whilst Alaena Turner’s Secret Action Painting series, similarly explores touch as frustrated gesture by describing an event that is not seen. In acknowledgement of the limited hospitality of the conventional ‘Look, but don’t touch’ model, which remains in place for this exhibition, art caterers, Forever Blowing Bubbles, will serve art-history cocktails, framing ingestion as a radical form of touch.

If we follow the argument put forward by art critic David Sweet, that painting can be reduced to a process of touching, then painting seems to be characterised by a certain lightness of work, differentiating artistic productivity from labour, and skill from manual dexterity. The curatorial decision to include practitioners in this exhibition, who may not identify themselves specifically as painters, is intended to question the degree to which touch might be useful as a way to articulate painting practice in relation to other contemporary forms of image production. Is painting embarrassing? And if so, can we make use of embarrassment as a productive condition?

The title of this exhibition, Slow, thick fingers [4], comes from a description of the approximate and materially seductive manner in which Manet painted hands. Approaching painting through the visibility of material qualities proposes a way of reading painting that takes into account the overall experience of the body, complementing visual experience with the implied tactile sensations of pushing, grabbing or holding. This perhaps aligns painting practice to everyday physical activities, moving towards an understanding of what is adjacent to painting, “the kitchen, the discotheque, the city, the house of fashion” [5] - what is painting touched by?