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A Brush With Fantasy

Jimmy Connelly

313 Bowery, New York, NY
September 14, 2023 – October 15, 2023



A Brush with Fantasy is Jimmy Connelly’s debut exhibition in New York and first show in fifteen years. Connelly presents 104 canvases painted during the last decade. To accompany his storytelling works, Jimmy prepared a booklet you can download here.

I most like the process of painting from imagination where you are completely engrossed, expanding your visual intelligence by responding to countless changes as they happen on the canvas. You are fully in the moment because you have to improvise and exploit opportunities and make decisions as the painting takes shape. It's the equivalent of what athletes call ‘flow state’ . Basketball players say the hoop suddenly looks huge, tennis players feel like the court has shrunk - time slows down - reflexes are heightened - boxers can weave between lightning fast punches, the impossible starts to feel possible.

In painting it's often described as a spiritual experience where you lose your sense of self and become more open to suggestion from forces beyond the conscious mind. You remove the part of your brain that says: ‘that should look more like this’ or ‘I'd like to paint something like that’ and you just allow things to take their own course.

The best description of this is by Philip Guston.

He talks about studio ghosts: “When you're in the studio painting, there are a lot of people in there with you - your teachers, friends, painters from history, critics... and one by one if you're really painting, they walk out. And if you're really painting YOU walk out.”

I wanted to achieve this so much - it's the ultimate painting experience. Suddenly, one day I had a revelation. A eureka moment. I realised I could achieve this in a much easier - quicker, effective and efficient way. Instead of contriving a situation where I eventually walk out of the studio when my friends have eventually left - how about I just not go in the studio in the first place? I'm already not in the studio! Job done! Simple! Just go home and have a lovely big snooze! Beautiful! “My place in the canon is firmly reserved,” I said to myself.

Besides, I had work in the morning! I couldn’t afford to sit painting all day like an aristocrat! I had children to feed! I did make my art brain useful - I used to walk into homeless hostels off the street and say, 'I'm an artist and I'd like to do an art project with you’ then I'd get people making art and coding computers and stuff and apply for grants. It was exciting because it was like the world was becoming my canvas, I was changing perceptions - making things appear different. At one point I had an office in central London and I had hundreds of homeless people coming from over 60 different hostels to learn stuff with me. I dreamt of it being a huge business where I took people off the street, trained them up then gave them employment on contracts I acquired from private clients. It wasn’t meant to be - at least not then.

I dug holes on construction sites - worked for charities - helped startups waste their money by writing thousands of lines of pointless code. It was tough because all I dreamed all day about was painting - dreaming of art got me fired a lot - I got fired from a building site for standing on a wall that was still wet and it collapsed, ‘I am SO Sorry’ - I got fired from working on a website for a huge multinational cigarette company because I forgot to delete a pop up message that said “cunt!”. The best thing I did is help my brother start his company which is now successful. Luckily he knew what he was doing. When I had children, my desire to paint became even stronger, first because kids are so creative and inspiring and second because I want to inspire them to follow their discipline and make their own dreams come true.

Meanwhile, without my knowing, my treacherous paint brushes that I had left languishing in the studio were getting increasingly frustrated. Laying there day after day - year after year - thoughts of paintings compounding, multiplying, festering, decaying, nourishing, thriving, dying, coming alive, culminating as time went on. The more they were unfulfilled the more they were maligned against me. One brush in particular was furious - he was a smart, conniving brush - who understood history and aesthetics and technique like none of the other brushes who were more docile. He saw an opportunity to overthrow my authority. He was pissed off at me for being an artistic failure - and had a grudge with mankind for not fully giving brushes due credit for creating nearly every great painting in history. He began to hatch a plan to become the most ‘successful paint brush in the world’. He commanded a large strong brush to be responsible for underpainting - whilst directing softer more sensitive brushes to do highlights and details. Soon a small army was formed working tirelessly through the night in unison when all the humans were asleep. One day I walked into the studio and was shocked to find 100 paintings! How dare they use my materials and undermine me like this. You haven’t heard the end of this. Next, they conceived behind my back to organise a show with Amanita. How dare they! Somehow they made their way to New York. I hope people who come to the show can see them for what they really are and are not foolish enough to give them what they want. Keep them in their place - humans have always been more important than tools - lets keep it that way.

My 11 year old daughter Zara, who for some reason likes my disobedient little brushes, wrote a story from what she saw in their paintings. I hope they are grateful.

— Jimmy Connelly