Key words: Materiality, Impulse, Invention, Freedom, Surprise, Non-knowing
“There are two problems in painting. One is to find out what painting is and the other is to find out how to make a painting. The first is learning something the second is making something.” (Stella, F.)
I like Frank Stella’s straightforward perspective and I agree with it.
“One learns about painting by looking at and imitating other painters…There is no other way to find out about painting.” (Stella, F.)
Marlene Dumas also said that paintings are really about all other paintings, they are a dialogue with other paintings, they refer to other paintings, sometimes to other things but mostly other paintings.
I think that my work is a dialogue with other paintings. I’m trying to work out what painting is through looking, obsessing and then forgetting. I’m putting a language together that joins the wider conversation.
“…Knowing must… be accompanied by an equal capacity to forget knowing. Non-knowing is not a form of ignorance but a difficult transcendence of knowledge… This is the price that must be paid for an oeuvre to be, at all times, a sort of pure beginning, which makes its creation an exercise in freedom.” (Bachelard, G.)
This is an essential part of engaging with paintings; you must internalise the information and then forget it and allow it to become part of your own unique language of art making. For me the freedom comes from choosing to be impulsive and enjoy the making itself despite the risk of failure.
“Art, then, is an increase of life, a sort of competition of surprises that stimulates our consciousness and keeps it from becoming somnolent.” (Bachelard, G.)
The result of working with this non-knowing or transcendence of knowledge is that the results are not premeditated or predetermined and form part of my own self-discovery.
“I think the art work isn’t as important as the artist. It’s a question of ‘seeing’ the process of art-making as being a process of self-discovery. Let’s say the work is a kind of reflection of some inner processes out of which the work grows.” (Kapoor, A.)
One of my main inspirations for this year has come from photos tribal dress which converted the wearer into an art object. What most struck me about these images was the use of texture, bright colours and bold patterns as well as found materials such as leaves, sticks and mud. I keep coming back to look at one particular image for these reasons. I thought about how tribal art has influenced modernism and it seems to be looking for an art form or means of expression that is less sophisticated but ultimately stronger and more direct.
“We engage in an artistic enterprise that is completely pure, basic; totally guided in all its phases solely by the creator’s own impulses. It is therefore an art which only manifests invention…” (Dubuffet, J.)
Jean Dubuffet was a great defender of art marginalised groups because he saw their work as unaffected and pure. I am interested in this way of working, although I don’t by any means consider myself unaffected, but I try to be direct and use my own impulses as much as possible and my goal is to be inventive.
Working alongside my four year old daughter has been very inspiring, she also doubts her ability but she makes beautiful pictures that are strong and direct, or unapologetic.
Another important influence has come from the work of the artist Imi Knoebel, principally his abstract collages made from aluminium. These are paintings which read as objects and occupy a space that is real rather than illusionary, I find this captivating. The combination of shapes which seem to hang together in space have creative potential, they could be rearranged to create new compositions. The work of Sabine Finkenhauer has the same quality and has been described as a device or a mechanism to activate the imagination.
Colour is a very important element of these artists’ work and of my own. I want to be more aware about how colours work and deepen my perceptions; I am attracted to trying colour combinations that are unfamiliar to me. Part of my use of colour is to do with letting go and allowing my inner child to play and choose whatever she wants. It’s an exercise in free-will to some extent. These colours may be unorthodox to some extent but I make the conscious decision to permit their use.
Colour is perhaps one of my main vehicles for expressing myself, it is one of the main things I respond to in the work of others, but one thing I did not expect to respond to so strongly was 3D colour. I found this while working with plasticine and looking at my children’s toys. In the first year of the MA I made some small pieces from plasticine and they changed my feeling for colour. They planted the seed for moving from flat colour painted on a flat surface to the search for more solid colour that I could mould with my hands. I’ve been experimenting with various materials as a result; craft foam; builder’s putty on MDF board; insulation foam in sheets and the canned variety; modelling paste. Each material has its own properties and engaging with them is interesting and surprising. This situation of not knowing what I’m doing is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. I must play and allow myself to make mistakes in order to find out what I can do with these new materials.
Another investigation I made was related to tribal work again but this time it was more conceptual than anything I’ve made. The idea came from looking at ceremonial rugs and capes made by individuals, normally women, over time to celebrate a special event and were infused during the making with the experiences and emotions of the maker giving them spiritual significance. I saw the connection between this and working on my paintings, which ultimately show a process of my own discoveries and decisions and are therefore infused with my own experiences and emotions. So, I took the plastic sheeting which has protected my studio floor from paint during the last two years of the course and decide that it would be my own ceremonial rug or wall hanging. But I fear this project has been merely a detour from my main interest in 3D colour.
Moving from or pushing through painting on a flat surface to using objects has made me realize how we engage with objects, we inhabit them and they form part of us. This is a mysterious thing for me, and I wonder if all my work with abstraction has really been based on a love of really banal everyday objects. I used to do a lot of drawings of sentimental objects and vegetables and flowers.
I went back to painting on paper for an afternoon to see what would happen and I discovered that I wanted to paint objects. The objects were vaguely recognizable as containers or pots occupying a space, sitting in front of a background or next to other objects.
While working I had been thinking a lot about the 3D paintings of Frank Stella and Elizabeth Murray; the cartoon quality, the fun, the freedom of these works it wasn’t totally dissimilar to the headdresses and adornments worn by the tribes’ people in my preliminary investigations. The work has the same inventiveness and impulsiveness which I find exciting. And so from the very beginning of the year I’ve had these images in my mind about what I would like to create, but despite this something else was coming through; something quite humble and unassuming, an awkward lumpy cube the size of a plant pot kept calling to me from my subconscious. And then I started reading about the work of Donald Judd and Giorgio Morandi and the contrast to what had previously excited me was beautiful. The quietness of these works was comforting.
“…Morandi… painted the same simple objects again and again in different configurations, playing with basic ideas of relationships of form and space and color.” (Sultan, A.)
This is the task I think I’m interested in taking up in my own work.
“Morandi searched for underlying reality through perception, trying to understand shape, color, space, using his hand, while Judd’s search used geometry and manufacturing.” (Sultan, A.)
It’s hard to know if I am searching for reality through perception also, this might be too convenient. I keep coming back to organising shapes and colours which really want to be objects, but not grand monumental objects; they want to be everyday banal things like tea pots and mugs or potatoes and cabbages. The patterns are tablecloths and curtains. I think I’m painting scenes from home. This may open up a whole can of worms about the twelve years I’ve spent living away from home in another country but it could be a more universal nostalgia for the home of my youth, I am pushing thirty-five so a mid-life crisis shouldn’t be ruled out.