Sunday, October 26, 2008

more process, and other discoveries

Tires and circular objects, 2006, 36 x 36 inches, acrylic on canvas.

As far back as 1997 I was trying to create softly diffused areas of color with the "end grain" of a round brush. I inherited a compressor when I moved into a studio in Knoxville in 2003 and a spray gun created that diffused area in an instant. It made certain paintings possible as I explored what it could do.

People have been fascinated by this painting, curious about how it was made and the softness that pervades it. The fact that the grey layer went on first, and the pink layer last is like a puzzle also. The sprayed pink appears to be a background but it is the top layer of paint. Its like thinking backwards, figuring out what each set of objects will create when stenciled around.

I discovered the painter Tomma Abts earlier this year, with an announcement about a showing in NY. I love her work. She won the Turner Prize in the UK in 2006 - why didn't I hear about it? Not doing much net trawling at that point obviously, working through my own path towards maturity in art practice - often that has to be a journey you make alone. Anyway, she creates paintings in a back to front method with stenciling and has similar conceptual concerns in some areas (images are not derived from reality but create their own reality).

Tomma Abts. Pabe, 2000, acrylic & oil on canvas, 48 x 38 cm. (left)

Tomma Abts. Luhr, 2004, acrylic and oil on canvas, 48 x 38 cm (right)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Space (tags and inserts),2006
acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches

My work could be thought of as process-based though not in an entirely pure sense . My method revolves around deskilled processes but with a wider focus.

Deskilled processes are those from which the skill has been removed. Industrial production relies on particular actions repeated indefinitely and mechanically, each the same, each having the same, perfect outcome. Industry moves towards perfection in this way (no "unskilled" mistakes) because it speeds things up, increases profits, cuts down on waste. My interest is in using these deskilled processes for different reasons, obtaining different outcomes. Stenciling and printing are basic forms of deskilled processes.

Stenciling is also used in homes as a deskilled way of creating yards of customized decor. It has a domestic flavor, low end. Craft magazines. You, too, can have a beautiful home with this easy project. Country cottage, cottage industries. It can however be hugely impactful and effective if designed or applied by someone with an eye for color, composition etc. So the creation of the design could be called skilled (there's a whole can of worms here about taste and evaluation but we won't go there), and it can then be applied by someone else who doesn't want to bother with, or hasn't thought about those other factors. Who isn't being paid to have those skills etc. There are numerous cultural references woven through the idea of deskilling.

So, to create shapes on the canvas I take a shape and stencil round it - shazam! Done. No drawing, observing from life, imagination, anything. Deskilled... but not deskilled. What happens next? Why am I using it, what for? I love the effects - the hard and soft edges, the crisp curves. I love that it is actually creating a particularly contemporary shape, lifted straight out of my daily life. The deskilled process used in industry is importing the direct evidence or traces of an industrially produced object, but the same method has been seen in cave paintings from the dawn of history. It is thought that a mouthful of pigment was blown onto the cave wall over the artist's hand, leaving us with hand stencils - Kilroy was here in the most basic sense!

Stenciling relies on single or simple combinations of paint colors applied in layers... and what has been happening all through my art practice but paint being applied in layers! Why? Because layers naturally avoid perspective and optical space, but by layering stenciled shapes I begin to create the illusion of space again, engaging with traditional visual mechanisms. Via a different route - a route that is not limited by the assumptions of real experience or the conventional ways of abstracting imagery from it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

abstract turning points

(above ) Found objects in green and black with light rods, 2006
acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches

Here are two paintings with obvious links to the painting Harlem Window shown in the last post. It is also obvious that they have no further need of real life situations because the focus has shifted to visual dynamics. As understood in a fine art context, the situation on the canvas has enough of its own references to continue exploration.

Sounds simple, but there was a lot of searching done between 1998 and 2005! Making artwork when I don't know exactly what I'm going to end up with is the only way I can stay excited about making art. (I can compare the experience to stumbling around a room blindfolded, believing that doors exist but not knowing where or what they are). The night scenes I painted before, for example, were only fresh and interesting while I was using them to explore the unknown. After that they became formulaic and dull. They still seemed to sell, but I couldn't keep painting them as a main practice. I think there are still exciting "realist" paintings in me, but I don't yet know what form they will tak
e, exactly.

(below) Space # 7, 2005
acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches

Friday, October 10, 2008

Harlem Window

Harlem Window, 1998
Oil on board, 60 x 36 inches

Terrible photo of an important work... This painting went into the student show at the Royal Academy in Edinburgh and sold within a couple of months of painting it. (For GBP450...). This (paper) photo actually has the shadow of a gallerygoer moving across it at speed, I've had to doctor that out in photoshop. I don't even have the negative - a friend took it when we went to the opening. Its not that I was ignorant of the need to keep records but sometimes life takes a while to catch up with your intentions.

As a little aside, at college I worked almost as hard as I had done at my business, and that's saying something! I would be at my desk writing at about 7.30 am (nice when I had the 3rd floor apartment looking out over the Tay), get to the art school studio at 9.30 or so, work til 7 or 9 pm when they closed the building, then go home and experiment with photoshop until I fell off the chair in the wee hours. Sunday was food shopping and laundry day. Each summer (five in all) I worked for 10 weeks grafting roses in a field 6 days a week 12 hours a day. Try picking potatoes all day and you'll be halfway to the backbreaking nature of the job. With thorns. Kept me fit (I was in my late 30's at the time). Great money (in student terms), raised my yearly wage to about GBP 6,000. Most of the tuition was paid for by the state, but I still have GBP 4500 in loans to pay back. Oh, yeah, and I moved nearly every summer to another apartment, storing my stuff for a few months in between. It was a helluva time.

So, anyway, I was kinda busy with the things I thought were important. Even if I didn't manage great photos. It was one of the most intense and wonderful times of my life, and there seemed to be enough money for a lot of homemade bloody marys.

Why am I posting this terrible picture? Well, its a turning point in my art practice. I went to New York (a guy paid my ticket) for the weekend. It was a bit of a disaster but very useful. The guy lived in Harlem and prowling round the apartment on my own in the middle of the night... as you do when its a disaster... I saw streetlights through some dark, flowered curtains in his bathroom window. The apartment was nice, wood floors, plants etc, but I'd heard so much about Harlem over the years that the comparison between the space inside and outside struck me as extreme. I mean, here I was in my knickers and a few feet away was the dangerous slum of legend...(!) Visually, all that separated the spaces was this bathroom curtain. It made a huge impact.

A few months later I saw, no - recognized what I was seeing - on the airport window as the compression of several situations into one image. Needless to say, curtains and windows occupied my attention as representing the boundary between spaces that were contiguous but perceived to be different.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

photographic exploration of ideas

In Transit Bus, 1999, photograph

So, during my MFA I explored the idea of the glass and reflections in photographs, which capture the essence of several realities at once.

This image was taken inside a bus between an aircraft and the terminal. I didn't care that it was blurred. Visually I found it luscious and the blurring to convey a sense of temporariness, and the existence of other priorities. It is full of information about the implied situation(s). As passengers, we are not allowed outside onto the tarmac. We have to stay inside the safety of the bus because we don't understand the rules out there (and we probably aren't insured...). In fact, having arrived from another country, we are not allowed outside the airport perimeter as we haven't gone through immigration yet (haven't officially arrived). So those lights a few miles away could be seen as being in a different country altogether from the one we are in. Conceptually.

I was really into the french philosopher Marc Auge at that time who has some interesting things to say about non-space, ie an area we do not have a history, relationship or connection with, and I explored that for a while in writings, travel paintings, views from hotels and aircraft windows etc.

My interest eventually continued past this to the principle of different spaces themselves, especially perceptions of adjoining but different spaces - not divided by concrete boundaries. Visually, objects like windscreen wipers, reflections, curtains etc, that differentiate between personal and public space, began to translate into the layering of floating abstract shapes.


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