It's not often I come across an article about painting that I absolutely align with - but I do here in this essay. I agree with everything Justin says here - he has long been my painting hero - he manages to seize and fix the zeitgeist of contemporary painting in his elegant writing. I wish Australia would give him back. Enjoy!
Written by Justin Paton, Published in The Australian June 15th 2016. ( see accompanying images)
Painting isn’t dead but it gets up and risks death every day. “I nearly died out there,” performers say when no one laughs at their jokes or stops talking during their songs, and that’s the kind of dying that painting runs the risk of all the time. Painting doesn’t need you to stand around for the funeral, as if this is The End forever. What it needs is for you to turn up at the club and hope it doesn’t die tonight. And when it does die out there, sweating under the stage-lights, it needs you to care and hope enough to show up again tomorrow. Instead of dirges and memorials, what painting needs is hecklers, groupies, buffs, aficionados, nerds, family members and fans.
But there are only so many seats in a club. Shouldn’t painting be playing to bigger audiences? No, painting shouldn’t. The need to please on an industrial scale has had unhappy consequences for sculpture, turning needling and nimble artists into bloated stadium rockers. There are rare painters who seem most themselves in front of a sizeable crowd: I think of Anselm Kiefer when he unstops the whole orchestra or Mark Bradford when he really rips it up. But the painting that reaches us is usually the size of a person. It lives somewhere in the space between the size of someone’s head and the span of someone’s arms. It is not for “the audience” or “the sector” or “the demographic” or that suspiciously docile crowd of ciphers known as “viewers”. When you come as close to the painting as the painter stood to make it, it is for you and you only. Painting is radically intimate.
The tricky part is conveying how this intimacy exists within a sense of decorum or distance. Though we are standing where the painter stood and looking at the surface they touched, though we are seeing the strokes they made and inwardly rehearsing the gestures that generated them, though we may be close enough to smell the materials, it is indispensable to this intimacy that the painter has left the scene — that they have ceded authority to this unlikely stand-in, a piece of fabric or board spread with colour. This letting go, oddly, is what permits art to visit places normal conversations don’t go. There are things that the performer will say while they are performing, distanced from us by lights and the stage, that they would not say to us directly. Painting, likewise, does not talk straight to us. It agrees to let us listen in.
Painting is a problem, a project, a discourse, a mode of production, a field of inquiry. But it is also something you do, as in “I’m painting,” and no one who looks at painting a lot should do so without attempting to make a painting. The sensation of feebleness is bracing and immensely instructive, as one strives to summon sense from blobs of muddy colour using a ridiculous stick topped with bristles.
Persist, however, and humiliation yields to another instructive sensation — one that real painters often mention semi-superstitiously. This is the feeling that the surface in front of you is beginning to develop needs, telling you what kind of picture it wants to be. Even when you are doing nothing more than attempting the simplest copy, every stroke demands a counterstroke, every colour requires an adjustment of another, and because the medium is fluid, viscous, sticky, volatile, a quiet urgency also enters the equation.
You are building your image in real time from matter that slips and slides, and only by agreeing to be like the medium, to yield and respond, will the painting continue to grow. No painter has described this strange transfer of power more eloquently than Philip Guston, who spoke of returning to the studio in the morning and looking in with trepidation at the golems he had helped to life the night before.
Of course, we amateurs are not going to emerge from our efforts with paintings like Guston’s. Nonetheless the thrilling and humiliating exercise of actually painting should be imposed upon all critics, historians and curators, if only to disabuse us of the notion that the thinking in a painting can be separated from its' making.
“Tell us about the ideas behind your work,” painters are asked, as if the painting is merely a door behind which the thoughts that generated it are stowed. But the thoughts that matter in painting are not lined up beforehand to be put into or clipped onto the painting. The thoughts that matter most emerge from the painting, like heat rising off a compost heap.
It is obligatory now when writing about painting to furrow one’s brow about the rise of the digital. I suppose I ought to feel anxious about the preschool kid I saw on the bus the other morning who was trying to swipe the cover of her picture book because she thought it was a touch screen. Here was a scene apparently custom-designed to dismay any friend of painting: a premonition of a world where unmoving images are regarded as a frustrating irrelevance.
At the same time, however, it was a scene that made the situation for painting marvellously clear. Now that everyone carries with them and sees the world through these black screens, the stillness of painting seems stranger and more scandalous than ever. For eyes accustomed to touch screens, a painting is effectively a stalled iPad — a permanent glitch, a surface that perversely refuses to yield up other images.
This does not mean painting is obsolete. But it does mean it just got harder. Painting in the age of the internet does not mean deploying digital squiggles and Photoshoppy fades. It means making the stillness and singularity of the painting’s surface count as never before.
The methods for making an image stay are an open secret. They are there to be gleaned from the stayers of the past. I recommend Hans Memling’s The Man of Sorrowsin the Arms of the Virgin, a 550-year-old painting that argues afresh for its existence every time I visit it at the National Gallery of Victoria.
Painting is possible today, but is it necessary? The question is a good one to ask of painting in the age of the art fair, when the death of the medium seems less of a threat than complacent overproduction. To walk through the big fairs in Hong Kong or London is to see many examples of what might be called placeholder paintings — paintings that exist to occupy the place that painting is expected to occupy in these settings. Placeholder paintings pay us the dubious compliment of giving us what they think we want. Like other products of the Instagram age, what they desire most of all is to be Liked. Away with them. Hard as it is to define, what one wants to find instead is the necessary painting: the painting that the painter needed to make and you needed to see.
More than beauty, quality, sublimity, consistency or perfection, a sense of necessity is what I want most from a painting today, and it lives for me in four qualities especially. First is modesty, a sober evaluation of painting’s power and scale in the world. The necessary painting begins in full knowledge of all painting can’t do or hasn’t realised. Second is a certain nakedness of physical means, a recourse to the bare necessities. Third and crucially, the necessary painting is a painting that could have failed. It grew uniquely and its final shape is one that the painter could not have foreseen at the beginning. And because it was discovered in good faith rather than predetermined and merely executed, its appearance registers, for both the painter and the viewer, as a surprise and something of a gift.
Then there is strangeness. By strangeness I don’t mean the obviously surreal, fantastical or outlandish. I’m thinking of the way painting simultaneously clarifies and makes mysterious. We’re familiar with the idea that, by describing the world well, painting brings us closer to it, drawing attention to what we hadn’t noticed. But the paradox of the painting is that, while drawing the world close, it also supplants or replaces or resists it. That is the oddity and fascination of Giorgio Morandi’s paintings: the way they seem at once to take hold of their objects yet also to push them away, smearing and blending their outlines in a paste of muted tones. There is something consoling in Morandi’s deep attachment to these pieces of the quotidian world. But his painting is also a way to hold the world at bay, the better to think about it.
I don’t think we can say on this basis that painting is a “critical” medium — critical being one of those terms that reveals more about the speaker than the thing spoken of. But because it is old, slow, difficult, stubborn, marginal and uncontemporary, painting is well placed to express a sense of estrangement from and discontentment with some of the prevailing conditions of our time. In our culture of outcomes, deliverables, efficiencies, instantaneity, spectacle and calculated obsolescence, painting that is slow, inquisitive, persistent and doubting reminds us there are other ways of being and seeing. Painting may not be much in the end: a delay, a lovely tremble, a minor heresy, a stammer in the speech of Culture. But it is not nothing.
Justin Paton is head curator of international art at the Art Gallery of NSW. This is an edited version of an essay written for Painting. More Painting, showing at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, from July 29 to September 25. he art of creating a sense of necessity with paint
Finished tondo's work at Muse Gallery and online today at
Click on the photo to view larger image.
My work is so susceptible to light conditions, because of the mix of materials and surfaces I use. My photographs look quite different to those on the gallery website as mine show the surface shine which give the works depth. But you would see that in the gallery! Looking at a photograph is never a substitute for seeing a work because artwork has an aura in real life that cannot be rendered in pixels.
I loved working on these surfaces, ( in my new studio) and it might be a direction I explore further. The 'tondo' shape led me to thinking about the cosmos, how potent images of planets still are as political statements, reminders of our insignificance, how we are all witnessing this time on earth and see the celestial bodies that work in unison to sustain us.
Brilliant writing here on 'Gesture' from Andrew Jensen and the group show called the Anatomy of Gesture.
I have found it hard to research contexts for contemporary painting practice about 'gesture', which is a key part of my work. There is plenty of it to be seen in global painting but little succinct writing that considers it post 'authorship and authenticity' and post emotionality readings. I have highlighted in red the parts that new ways of thinking about gesture have been so well articulated below.
THE ANATOMY OF GESTURE: NIKOLIC, TOMESCU, MARTIN, TOPFER, HUMPHRIES
“It's a rather rude gesture but at least it’s clear what you mean.” Katherine Hepburn
Gesture can be risky. At the very least it is a tainted term, one that gets bundled up with authorship and authenticity and from there it’s only a hop, skip and a jump to emotionality and the human condition. This psychological yoke that gesture wore throughout much of the modernist period would eventually become too much, especially after the sorbet being offered by minimalism.
This back and forth between the loaded and expressive and the cooler and considered is a repetitive “gesture” across art history. Each of these artists gives gesture a different loading and responsibility. For Tomescu gesture advocates and carries structure. It sets co-ordinates and allows material to contribute without the puritanism that Greenberg desired. The works included in this exhibition also involve collage – another process of structural gesture but also one of disruption.
In Tomislav Nikolic’s work, gesture is less apparent across the surface of the painting. Nikolic finesses pigments, coaxing his extraordinary chromatic density out of the slow accrual of layers. As modest as his gestures are, they, like the colours, accrue so that his paintings carry an accumulated evidence of his hand, something revealed particularly at the dissipating edges.
Leigh Martin has long sought to give gesture an analogous life - one that subjugates authorship in favour of processes that flirt with the mechanistic and the sonic. His new large paperworks however seems to present the membrane of a gesture. Less Lichtenstein, more David Reed, Martin is taking us inside the anatomy of the gesture. He gives us a kind of MRI scan of it…fine layer by fine layer.
In the beautiful paintings of Jenny Topfer we witness a wrestle between the competing desires to let gesture have its way and then to negate its potential rhetoric and direct it towards a more chaste poetry. A looping, almost calligraphic gesture underlays the denser soft greys and whites that form the body of the painting. These glimpses of colour emerge from beneath at the periphery – not unlike Nikolic. We become aware though that this coastal activity doesn’t just quicken the edge, it emboldens the centre.
The paintings of New York artist Jacqueline Humphries rub up against a heavy-duty gestural history. Humphries work seems to run a neither confirm nor deny policy about gesture itself though, one minute taking pigment on an expansive sweep only to disrupt and curtail it by peeling away shards or wiping the gesture away…with another gesture. This relentless process of breaking the surface denies gesture’s theatre and imagined authority and replaces it with a faster, leaner surface – a kind of bombast afterimage.
Andrew Jensen March 2017
My solo show 'Transference' at Pataka finished a few weeks ago and some of that work will next be exhibited in Palmerston North, at Zimmerman Art Gallery. Thank you so much for taking the time to write a note to me in my visitors book and for your lovely comments. So heartening to get feedback, and feel that a connection has been made, through what remains to me a glorious mystery - the secret language of painting.
1. What have been your greatest inspirations in your line of work?
I love painting, so my greatest inspiration has been the enjoyment and challenge of the process of creating art work using that media. I am never bored with painting as it presents a lifetime full of questions and things to pursue. The challenge of always producing better paintings; ones that are more beautiful, more interesting, more conceptually developed, more layered, and that always inspires me to keep working.
Being in nature and watching contemporary film are sources of visual inspiration and of course looking at other people paintings. That makes me want to rush into my studio to make them myself.
2. How/what was the first things you did in setting up your first studio?
When I first set up a studio I made sure I had the right furniture and equipment that I needed, so it was a really comfortable and inviting place to be. I have rented many studio’s over the years, but found I very much prefer having a studio in my home that I can pop into anytime and for short bursts.
I have a few trolleys so that I can move materials around easily depending on what I am working on. I bought very strong lights – 2 x 500 watt halogen lamps that are attached to the ceiling and I love the ultra brightness of them. I do not like sunlight in my studio as it is not an easy light to control. I always have a large roll of newsprint so I can have a pristine surface on my table. The walls have rows of permanent nails which makes moving work around easy. Most essential is a great sound system as painting would be unthinkable to me if I didn’t have music.
3. Was there a important reason or influence in you starting your journey?
My journey as an artist started when I set up my first studio in the laundry at about age 11. I loved escaping in there and being able to make a mess and have the solitude. I did well at school in art, winning prizes and getting the top grades in my year. But I didn’t really consider going to art school when I left school, I was much more interested in being financially independent and travelling. Going straight into a tertiary course really wasn’t an option that I ever entertained. After I had travelled and worked overseas for 4 years, I did a 10 day non-speaking meditation course in India. During that course I asked the question of what I should do when I returned to NZ, and the answer was loud and emphatic, train as an artist. I started at Elam in Auckland the following year, at the age of 23.
It’s really hard to make a living from art in New Zealand, due to the very small population base, but luckily quite easy to get noticed for the same reason. I have done well from art awards and had years when I have sold quite a lot work, and other years when I haven’t sold any.
I am lucky because I love the balance of being an artist and having a job which takes me out of the studio and into the world interacting with people. So really there was no pressure to start a ‘business’ when I was well supported as an art educator and had my studio expenses paid for by research grants. Having said that, I am enjoying not having to work full time anymore and being able to be more relaxed in my studio with more time available, and I can have a wider range of creative projects on the go. I recently have been shooting film and it's strongly related to my painting, which is a nice reflection back into what my central concerns are.
4. What have been some of the greatest struggles you've had to deal with?
I have had stages where I have not liked my own work at all, when I have felt like a failure and untalented. One time I had a solo exhibition that was not that well received, so that was hard. Since then, years later, people have wanted to buy that particular work, so it really is a fickle business and you can let other peoples responses deter you from just getting on with the work and doing what you want to do.
I am in a good place now. I accept that sometimes I am really on form, and other times I’m not. Sometimes I can produce excellent work, other times what I do is not so good, so it gets destroyed. I try not to let those things affect me emotionally, or my decision to be an artist, as they are just feel like any experience of life - it’s never all roses. When I do a painting I do really like I am very happy, but that wears off and I have to paint something new.
This year I have an exhibition booked at Pataka - running from December - 22nd January. So great to have a holiday slot when it's nice and warm as hopefully that gets people out and about more. One terrible fear of being an exhibiting artist is the thought that after all the effort not many see the work, so I am thrilled at least the scheduling maximises the opportunity.
Planning my next body of work, hot on the heels of 'Ardour' which I must say, I was really pleased with. The works pulled together things I wanted to do for a while, the gold underpainting, with its flashing luminosity and rich velvety colour that I wanted to be super strong.
I was inspired by the review Dunedin Laura Elliot did on that exhibition and intending exploring some of her interpretations further.
Below is the next step post 'Ardour'. I have reintroduced the random incisions and flooded pearlescent paint under the mark-making, whereas in 'Ardour' I used a flat gold.
I think this gives the work some added drama and idiosyncrasy, it appears a bit more complex and not so easy to read.
Plumb (2016) Acrylic on panel, 1600 x 800mm (Mobile Art Gallery, Auckland)
Seep (2016) Acrylic on Panel, 1600 x 1800mm (Mobile Art Gallery, Auckland)
Next I need to nail the overall concept for the next body of work, and I have some ideas....
My father born in Linz, Austria, stumbled across NZ because the Australian Visa office was closed. How random is that! He had to look up where it was, when they said he could go there with his friend. He slept in a car on Mt Victoria, in Wellington, enjoyed traveling the country and going on hunting trips which are a luxury in Austria. He returned to Austria and met my mother and showed her the pictures of this wonderfully promising country on the other side of the world. She comes from Leibnitz, a small town in a stunning wine growing area close to the Slovenian boarder.
My father trained as an artificial limb-maker when he left school and accepted the job and accommodation offered by the NZ government, when he applied to return. My parents arrived in NZ in 1960. My father was 25 and my mother was 20 when they sailed over and arrived in Wellington. She gave birth to my sister soon after and then I was born 13 months later.
Both my parents left school at 14, both were arty/crafty, and experienced the war as children. One of my fathers recollections of his teenage-hood is attending a Hitler rally. There are a lot of war heroes in my family. One grandfather was awarded an iron cross for crawling up the side of a tank and tossing in a hand grenade, and I recently had the medal sent to me. My other grandfather, a bee-keeper, escaped from a POW camp in Siberia and walked back to Austria, which took him a whole year.
Our household was very Austrian; gorgeous textiles, rugs, embroideries (yes, I think there is a connection there to the visual tactility of my painting), traditional folk furniture and art objects. My mother had worked as a nanny back in Austria (think governess 'Sound of Music') and excelled in all the domestic arts, especially cooking, embroidery and sewing. She also played the Zither, cultivated roses, and did amazing ikebana flower arrangements. My mother looks quite eastern European, black hair and pale skin. I always thought she was so beautiful, especially when she danced to Elvis Presley while she vacuumed. She became quite a career women in New Zealand, exhibited her needle-crafts and rugs, managed exhibitions and a embroidery shop, travelled the country giving demonstrations, and played the zither at functions. Now she's an extraordinary and passionate gardener and her efforts in Tauranga have been featured on garden trails.
My father is a master craftsman with nearly every material, especially wood, and more recently has become an exhibiting figurative sculptor with clay. He can do incredible Leonardo da Vinci type drawings of anatomy, and is really interested in the expression in human forms. He is the ultimate handyman and can make and fix anything, and I have inherited a bit of that. Also a very talented gardener, he cultivated bonsai's and made ceramic pots for them. He designed and made traditional Austrian furniture, (hollowed out hearts and turned legs) and built a lovely Chalet in our Melrose garden, shutters and wooden boxes filled with flowers, that we used to call 'the little hut'. My parents posed outside the chalet for Austrian Club invitation photo shoots in their national dress. My father was 'shuh-blattler' a dance where a team of men sing, carry out a log and chop it up, while slapping their thighs. I was in awe of that as a child.
German was my first language; apparently I didn't learn English until I went to school and then taught and corrected my parents. My Oma stayed with us a couple of times for extended periods and I remember her hilarious way of talking with her hands to explain German to my sister and I, and I sometimes think that gestural imprint soaked into me, and has played out in the way I make paintings. She taught me how to make apfel-strudel and had a very silly sense of humour that my sister and I loved her for. When I hear Austrian-German now, it's like hearing a nursery rhyme you haven't heard since you were 4, and it makes me feel very strange. So I can understand spoken German really well and like to practice speaking from time to time but have very little occasion to. I try to see every contemporary Austrian film that comes out. I love the complex psychology in their filmmaking, which is so different to the tourist representations and the ideas about the 'home country' I had growing up. I spent a year in Austria, in my twenties, working in ski resorts and that really gave me a perspective on what was 'Austrian' and what was just my parents personalities, as I really found it hard to distinguish between the two.
So I am a first generation NZer, and that's tough, very little extended family, and no historical roots to any particular location. I sometimes feel I don't really understand the subtleties of this culture, which for those born here is a childhood osmosis of learning about what the right thing to say and do is, at a particular time. Our family culture was very direct, demonstrative, expressive. We observed traditions like Christmas on the 24th and ate very European food. I have learned that I am more Austrian than I thought in relation to others born here, but have always considered myself a kiwi through and through.
I think there is significant Austrian cultural influence in my work. I see it in the baroque romanticism that I love, a kind of serious aesthetic, an intensity which appears different to some NZ sensibilities, a love of a 'richness' that isn't about Pacific relaxed ways, light and song. I also hope that some of the refined elegance that I admired so much living for a couple of years in Japan has also permeated my painting practice. I definitely inherited the work ethic of an immigrant, and I am a willing slave to art.
Back in 2006, I had my first solo show at Milford Galleries, in Dunedin, called 'Airborne'. A tribute to the elemental nature of Wellington, especially the effect of air, its cross currents, swirling energy, and the interlacing of water and salt spray, so keenly felt from my Lyall Bay home. One work from the series called 'Zephyr', I was really pleased with as it achieved a fortuitous 'moire' effect which is a psychedelic moving pattern that is created by diagonally crossing lines (see 2005 tab to view 'Zephyr').
A little while after the show Milford Galleries contacted me with a possible contract for paintings for a 5 star luxury hotel that was being built at Franz Josef Glacier -Te Waonui Forest Retreat. Have a look! The designers Dalman Architecture worked with Milford Galleries and selected 2 paintings to be featured in the restaurant and in the bar, and other works from the exhibition to be photographed and printed large for each of the 100 rooms.
Last week I dropped into the hotel to view the work and bumped straight into the manager Richard Bungeroth, who warmly greeted us with kiwifruit cocktails and a tour. He then invited us to stay! My husband, daughter and I had been touring the South Island for the last three weeks, mainly staying with friends, and were on our way to the Picton. We quickly cancelled our cabin at the motor camp.
What an absolutely gorgeous hotel, the design is so warm, so environmentally sensitive and sophisticated. I was thrilled to see my work so proudly and singularly featured and well lit. The paintings work so well with the hotel environmental immersion theme, which celebrates textures and colours from nature, the native bush, stones, rivers and glacier. I loved hearing the staff interpretations of my work, clearly reading the elemental exploration that I had tried to achieve, and relating the paintings to the flow of water. The glacial river reading is so apt in its setting.
We immersed ourselves in the luxury of the quality of everything from the linen and organic textiles, the floaty woollen bedding, the expresso machine in our room, the bathrobes and slippers that we put on to cross through to the hot pools right next to the hotel, and of course the stunning forest setting and birdsong. The breakfast was the best we have ever had and included champagne! The cocktails late at the bar were delicious and the staff were incredibly friendly, so genuinely interested and warm, we loved meeting them all.
We stayed two nights, we just didn't want to leave! The couple packages that include hotel spa therapies, massages and facials sound brilliant. Such a restorative place to stay I left feeling very rested, energised and so pampered. Many thanks to Richard for his keen support of the arts and the very generous hospitality we so enjoyed. Highly recommended.
Happy New Year!
I am so refreshed and excited about 2016, all the potential and possibilities that lie ahead and the enjoyment of time and space I have right now to create new work.
I have new representation in Palmerston North through Bronwyn Zimmerman, who has a fabulous street front gallery there. Bronwyn has a great approach to showing contemporary art and wants to make sure that her gallery is accessible and welcoming to everyone.
Zimmerman Art Gallery
Open 11am - 3pm daily | Ph (06) 353 012
359 Main Street West, Palmerston North
PO Box 1795 Palmerston North 4440
firstname.lastname@example.org | www.zimmerman.co.nz
This month at Zimmerman Art Gallery
This month, Zimmerman is showing for the first time selected works by Wellington painter, Lorraine Rastorfer. The accomplished artist, who holds a Master of Fine Arts (First Class Honours) from Elam, has described her painting process as follows:
"I work with the fluidity, viscosity, opacity and transparency of paint, a variety of mark-making tools that I have designed myself and the effects of chance, control and an overall conceptual intent. I keep going until a find a spatial balance; a sense of ordered freedom, a unified variety of rhythms and streams.”
The image below is a taste of the Rastorfer works currently on display at Zimmerman Art Gallery - come take a closer look!
Brevity (2013) Acrylic on Panel, 1200 x 1200mm
Meringue (2015) Acrylic on Panel, 1200 x 1200mm
Raspberry (2015) Acrylic on Panel, 1200 x 1200mm
The relationship between art and commerce is so fraught, how on earth can you value art in monetary terms? Yet we do. What is the real value of art? What does it do? What is its purpose and what does it mean? Thank you, Jeanette Winterson, for exploring and articulating the ideas below (edited from her speech: http://www.phf.org.uk/news/jeanette-wintersons-keynote-speech-awards-for-artists-2015/ )
.....We sense that life has an inside as well as an outside—that our imagination, dreams, ideas, are all invisible until we give them some visible form. We create so that other people can see the invisible. Music begins in the silent space of the mind but we invented instruments so that what is in my mind can reach your ears and your heart. Yes, always the heart. Art is nothing if we can’t feel it.The strange experience we call art is how we bridge the gap between the material and the non-material. Between the everyday life of busyness and doing, and the inner life, so personal, so necessary, so hard to place or find space for in the 24/7 mania of competition and failure.
This struggle between what is seen and what is invisible—between the 3D world of sense-experience and the anti-matter world of what cannot be proved empirically, is the never resolved, un-resolvable struggle that art throws in our faces. That art tries to solve by revealing in forms we can manage—shapes, colours, sounds, light—the overwhelming totality of consciousness. We know we only use a tiny percentage of our brains; neuro-science is just beginning to understand how vast and weird consciousness is. The composer Sir John Tavener talked about this vast consciousness of ours and tried to reveal it through his music. But artists understand and articulate the situation in different ways. So many ways. None right or wrong; all clues towards a bigger life.
Art is energy. That’s why contact with art makes us feel better. Art isn’t some Sunday afternoon pursuit invented by the middle classes with leisure and money. Painting happened on cave walls. Music and story-telling happened round small fires in dark woods. Listen, a woman is singing. Look, a man has left a carving. Walk 20 miles to an unheated room to hear a quartet.... Art is democratic. For everybody.
And people say, ‘Art doesn’t feed the hungry or stop wars. Art doesn’t build hospitals’. It’s a matter of priorities.
Yes it is. The acute problems of our world—war, poverty, mental illness, social injustice—are symptoms of the chronic problem of our values. We value profit over people. It really is as simple as that.
But art—no matter how much it sells for—no matter how it is co-opted by the rich as a status symbol—is always and everywhere about the human condition. The Who Am I? What am I? And always about the essential creativity of human beings.
The Greeks had a word for it --Temenos, a sacred space perhaps a spring or a well or a grove—where you could meet the god. This temenos was a virtual space as well as a physical space; you could inhabit it in your mind. It became a meditative space.
Art is that meditative space. That temenos. Sometimes as an object—but essentially as an experience. You can buy it, but actually it is what can’t be bought. It is outside of the circle of getting and spending.
Many thanks to 'essay writer' for sharing her thoughts on Jeanette's article. (see comment below)
My work is all about gesture; a physical trace of movement through space, motion to express thought, embodied marks set in time.
Each individual work has a history of 10 or more completed works until the lines and their movements synchronise into some kind of intuited whole. I work with the fluidity, viscosity, opacity and transparency of paint, a variety of mark-making tools that I have designed myself and the effects of chance, control and an overall conceptual intent. I keep going until a find a spatial balance; a sense of ordered freedom, a unified variety of rhythms and streams.
I have considered using gold since my years in Japan and the way it was traditionally used to great effect to create mysterious illumination from shadowy alcoves in homes. These works are intended to be seen in rooms where changing light conditions fire up the work and make the calligraphic strokes blaze. The gold under-painting is intended to add an intensity to ideas about interactivity, a catching of light when moving past the work, a light that follows the viewer.
Energy, passion, fervour, intensity, ardour. These are the ideas that have fueled this work in order to materialize and fix an unfolding event.
Milford Galleries have published a catalogue for the exhibition. What a superb Gallery support they are.
Ok, so I ended up scrapping everything I had shown in the previous blog and made some ruthless decisions about the look of the show. I decided that all the work would be on a base of gold with a flat earthy dense mottled matt colour over it. At first I thought silver and gold and then I thought just gold, as it's so lovely and warm, and fitted the overall concept of 'Ardour ' better than steely silver.
1. passion, feeling, fire, heat, spirit, intensity, warmth, devotion, fervour, vehemence, fierceness
2. enthusiasm, zeal, eagerness, earnestness, keenness, avidity
I work 'wet in wet', so once its dry the work is finished, I can no longer move things around. So I have several goes at inscribing gestures and work out where I want a work to go. Sometimes I rework a work 20 times and I photograph the versions along the way. It's a horrible moment in reflection when I look at the images and see that actually I have destroyed a a work that had 'something' special. I cannot ever reproduce the gestures in the same way, and I ususually start pretty wild, refining and extracting as I go.
With this series they all had to have a different visual gestural unpinning idea: falling, throwing, growth, energy, 3d space, locks of hair, fire, weeds, supple-jack, ribbons, knotted trees, ikebana, grass and agapanthus leaves.
I'm really excited about how interactive the gold makes the work. I varnished over the gold so its not a gaudy gold but more straw gold, very shiny and it picks up the light and moves it over the gestures when you look at the work. It blazes in a really dramatic way with changing light conditions in a domestic setting and goes quiet at night under electric lights.
The matt paints I use are so dense, rich and velvety. The downside is they are really sensitive to greasy fingers and scuffs so this painting has to be handled very carefully, and that's always a worry. Many artists I admire who use similar materials have work cordoned off as painting generally often longs to be touched.
Ugh, ended up being sick for 5 weeks, getting very behind in my painting and very very grumpy. But back into now, lost my thread and taken two weeks to find it again. Now at the remembering, re-evaluating and making resolutions about how to go forward, stage. To get there has meant a lot of floundering around but cleared the way for next steps. Therefore most of the work below has been an explorative process and has not survived. I saw the show as being predominantly red, but now have introduced gold and pink, so quite a romantic look, and regretting I didn't use warmer tones as under-painting. I remember then that I have thought this before (annoying to not remember that in the first place) and this means I will need to rework some of it. Next post will show the work that survived from the carnage below. I seem to be working in 2 directions - more botanical forms versus more abstract and need to synthesise these 2 looks, crossover between the forms. Running out of time, only a month to go, so will be working 7 days a week.
P.S. Click on small image for a closer look.
I've been sick in bed for a whole week, so it's been a good opportunity to ponder some new resources. One is a great book 'The Architecture of Variation', by Lars Spuybroek, an architect, artist and author. It has essays about 'Uniformity and Variety', 'Material Evolvability', 'Moire Effects', 'The Radical Picturesque' and 'Variations in Evolutionary Biology'. Quite heady stuff, multi-layered contexts and voices. More exciting though are the images, (some selected and doctored below) that analyze lines and forms of organic growth that seem really relevant to my work.
I revisited folders of 'readings' from a decade ago and I'm amazed I still get excited over stuff I collected from then that is still philosophically relevant to the things I think about now, and which has come to define my work. I came across the statements (below the images) that I have always liked and that have held true to my thoughts about painting.
It's been a frustrating week because I have been dying to keep the momentum of the previous week going and work with the now ready under-painted surfaces. These 3 works will be pivotal to my defining my next show. I can only paint when I feel good, as it's so high energy, and I have to be feel strong and confident to pull it off.
My deadline for the upcoming exhibition at Milford Galleries in Dunedin is the end of September, in readiness for the opening on the 24th Oct. The show will be called , 'Ardour'.
ardour (ˈɑːdə) or ardorn
1. feelings of great intensity and warmth; fervour
2. eagerness; zeal
[C14: from Old French ardour, from Latin ārdor, from ārdēre to burn]
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Images no.1-5 taken from The Architecture of Variation, Lars Spuybroek.
Image no. 6, 7 & 8, and below my own. All images colour doctored - need high colour this week!
There are all these painters. They're doing it now in the age of the internet and digitized multimedia. Why? All real painters know the pleasure of their medium... an outlaw medium.
Painting is a dense, layered and shifting thing, a complex and ambiguous visual fixing of the zeitgeist, and a cogently critical medium.
Painting bears physical record to the expressions of the human hand...In no other art medium is creation more permanently and intimately bound to the movement of the human body.
We can treat (painting) as indeterminate visual noise, holding at bay it's capacity to offer us meanings, equally, we may be fascinated and absorbed by what we see to a degree that goes beyond meaning. And it is exactly the exploration of these open ended areas of the either side of meaning and symbolic communication that has driven forward the history of painting, generating much of the distinctive complexity and richness....
In the 'step by step' post there were 3 silvery under-paintings, and I have rejected 2 of them, and reworked them today. One I brushed apricot bronze tinted primal, so a transparent layer and have floated some pinky iridescent paint over it. The other silver painting I took back to black. Both these rejects were tonally too dark for the next layer even though I loved some of the incidental marks in them.
I often have to reject work and redo it to push my process further. So the one I retained which is the very 'holey' bright silver one is breaking new ground, as its 'holier' than anything else I have done so far.
I'm responding to feedback that people are quite excited by the 'holes' under my combing works and I am too. Sometimes I look at these under-paintings; and think the work is entirely complete. I have an under-painting in my bedroom which I have been considering for some months to see if it actually sustains a conversation with me in its 'holy' (sic) simplicity. This work was particularly fortuitous, and it's so silky. I love how the paint is floating and transparent. So far I'm loving it as an object of contemplation, very suited to a view from a bed.
Underpainting. Quite a process for me. Love this stage though, so liquid and free. I have taken one back to black since I took these photos, think I can get a better result than I got. Will be interested to see how the very 'holey' one looks underneath the combing. Considering taking the other one back to black and redoing the liquidity for a brighter and more intense outcome,