Category Archives: Nov ’15

Painting multiplication and radical changes in direction.

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Radical shifts are necessary. After a very thought provoking tutorial last week I decided that I needed to shift gear in a number of ways. Embracing abstraction is definitely key in this. I have been mulling over an enormous painting which I have spent time working on recently, and I decided that I was too busy trying to invent ‘object’ within it, moving away from abstraction and into illustration. Irrespective of the bright palette, I felt that I could make much more realistic and genuine progress if I broke the canvas apart. I described it as my enormous canvas ‘giving birth to’ around 20 smaller pieces. I folded these around boards. The work was cut up methodically to avoid me looking for specific representational imagery to incorporate within any smaller canvas. Each already has a voice. I may or may not fine tune this.

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And the irregular shaped ‘remnants’….

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Just beneath the surface

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Details taken from a series of works in which I explored painting on flesh and ceramics. The surfaces were painted and then photographed, although the quality of the images (given that some are small edits from the original image) varies. I am keen to develop this ‘test piece’ and explore the potential for close up works on the lose theme of surfaces and the skin that separates us. I am liking the possibilities for abstracting the imagery, whilst also removing it from the conflict of relating in any way on a interpersonal level with the model. I realise that this was one disadvantage of the previous series of painted models, in that, whilst the image spoke to me because I had the relationship with the model whilst painting them: the viewer does not need to have any relationship with the model. Moreover, I would rather the paint work is the subject. The following are a few further examples and I will take some new photographs over the next few weeks, exploring the range of techniques I can use to explore photographing painted flesh.
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From one artist to another…

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During a recent tutorial with artist Hayley Lock I was surprised by the amount of headway I made psychologically re the direction of my work. Make no mistake, I would be creating work with or without the Masters. But recently someone asked WHY I am doing a Masters and my main answer was that I wanted the mental challenge in my own practice, to force me out of a groove I have cut for myself and my work. It is a window, an opportunity to deconstruct what I do, to pull it apart, figure out what it is, why it is necessary, or what it (the work separately from the artist!) wants to share with the world.

Hayley and I discussed that I need to lose my sense of social responsibility: both in terms of producing imagery which is recognisable, and in terms of feeling morally obliged to be making work which questions and challenges the things I disapprove of; that I am a teacher came as no surprise to Hayley who recognised this as something hard to separate from one’s own practice. Again, I have been told this numerous times, but the voice has become amplified by repetition. I am closer to actioning this new direction. Expressions which Hayley used that I was particularly fond of included ‘dusting away my footprints’. As I explained the significance of my blog being called ‘Art In A Birdcage‘, we discussed the relevance of what I expose, what I keep hidden, why this is so, and we chatted for some time about the idea of multiple personalities and states of awareness and being able to let go of absolute control. These are themes Hayley works with in her own practice, developing outcomes which explore even the notion of multiple selves and the way we lie consciously and unconsciously to ourselves, as well as exploring when we ‘lose ourself’ and when we are consciously in control. One of Hayley’s suggestions was that I should dispense with the whole of the model when body painting, and instead zoom in to capture the painting on the flesh but without the ‘person’ which creates another level of interference in understanding the image: that it is crafted on flesh and that it has a relationship with the flesh (rather than being face painting to alter the way any specific individual looks). In exploring this further Hayley commented on allowing myself to ‘lose myself’ or ‘leave no trace of myself’ within work which may be deeply emotional. It can hint at or suggest with ‘little reveals’ in terms of what I am contemplating or trying to achieve, yet without any literal exposure, and without my ‘responsible voice’.

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Image above is a detail of a self portrait 2015

Hayley discussed that I should bridge the gap between wanting to be very colourful and wanting to explore the subtlety of colours and similar tones: ‘working to a set of rules’ which works well for me and which I can enjoy adhering to and breaking.

Artists Hayley suggested I look into are:

Agnes Martin
Joseph Beuys
Gunter Von Hagens
Yoyoi Kusama
Gerhard Richter – skin series
The Uncanny – Freud
The Freud Museum
Judy Clark – body maps
Gwen Hardie

She also suggested that I think about the materials I use and how these can be kept close to skin-like qualities: using transparencies and layers: vellum, parchment, tracing paper etc This will also allow for layers which is something I was discussing I have recently become very interested in (both in terms of the unexpected relationship between layers, and the notion of hiding between them. Our discussion was very fruitful for me. I almost immediately decided that a painting I am currently working on needed to be pulled apart. The original imagery is now completely abstracted over 20 smaller canvasses, and I shall maintain both the abstract qualities and sense of them working as a series, which was another suggestion of Hayley’s.

Images into images…

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Whilst working with my sketches from the galleries in New York, I was particularly interested in the layering of imagery. These were images and sculptures which I was inspired to draw, so on one level they are all deeply connected. On the other hand, I was sketching imagery from different cultures and times; from Roman statues and works from 5th mil BC, to contemporary works made within the last few years. As I walked around the Met, Guggenheim, MOMA and Whitney, I waited to be physically stopped in my tracks by something I could not help but study further. The human form featured heavily in my drawings; a headless woman often seems to creep into my sketch book, but I have yet to psychoanalyse this! Distorted human figures or semi-abstract or symbolic imagery which related to the figure also stayed with me and I was constantly pulling out my pencil to record in a more personal and, inevitably less accurate way, than by taking photographs. It is the inaccuracy which appeals to me; after all, I could buy a postcard in the shop, and countless other people have recorded each piece with DSLR technology. But to draw it means to make my own interpretation, to accept likely alteration, adjusted focus and unintentional bias; perhaps even intentional. This is not to suggest a photographer would not be considering light and frame and composition and other formal qualities. But I am still a huge fan of pen or pencil and sketch book when in galleries.

I then developed this layering further. Initially I worked on  exploring the actual imagery and building a sense of depth by adding water colour. I then printed the images onto acetate. I produced one image in a relatively pure state as a photo-litho plate, and then I layered the same image with a second acetate to create a duplication of some of the imagery. One drawing had already been split in two and mirrored so that it had become something entirely different. I wonder whether other people will ‘see‘ the same images I see in this much more complicated piece. It has hidden complexities and I am enjoying this, although I recognise that I have always liked to ‘overwork’ the image. Perhaps this is important at this stage. Both the intentional and unintentional (subconscious) symbolism, and exploration of losing the literal, whilst perhaps gaining subjective, appeals. My reading on outsider art and mental health is also making me consider my work on a deeper level; beyond the superficial ‘art is therapy’ and into ‘what exactly is this saying, what exactly am I exposing, what exactly am I leaving hidden?

I think there is room for a great deal more exploration….