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Blasts from the past – five works, one every five years starting from my foundation course in 1989/90 up to 2010.
A still life painting exercise from my Foundation course. Oil on hardboard. The carved figure is one my Dad made.The other objects are some sort of nut, a plastic toy space gun and piece of grapefruit peel.
A drawing made a year or two after my finishing my Honours Degree. I was making small plaster objects of geometric house like forms. I used cardboard to make the initial mould and then latex to make a reusable one.
acrylic ink and paint on paper
Not too sure when this was made but it’s around this time. I was a living in Devon and working from home. A drawing of sorts. I think it was a one of those pieces of paper where I was cleaning my brush or using up excess paint, a by-product of sorts, but I like it.
acrylic on mdf
approx 1200 × 900mm
Made while house-sitting for friends in London. Fortunately for me, one of the bedrooms was in the process of being decorated so I had a free studio for a month. It’s a decent size woek, and I was still very much into gestural mark making. The title comes from a Tom Waits lyric,
“…and over in
The burnt yellow tent
By the frozen tractor, the
Music was like electric sugar”.
acrylic on canvas
200 × 250mm
A work from my “One for you, one for me” project, where I asked people on my mailing list to cover my costs to make two works. In return they’d get one of the works and I’d keep the other. I exhibited all the paintings in my studio at Toi Pōneke and randomly selected the works for the supporters of the project.
In looking at these images I’m struck by how different a story would be told if I had chosen five different images. Quite how representative they are of my practice as a whole is really up for question. In fact it’s safe to say they offer momentary snapshots and these are the ones that caught my eye today. Another day and it could be five different images and a totally new story.
And on a different note, it’s quite something to realise I’ve been making art for almost thirty years…
The test piece from the other week. I’m living with the work for now – seeing it at different times of the day, in different states of mind. I’m really liking some of the textures, however the balance of the tones isn't working for me, but that’s ok. The illusionistic three dimensional nature of the work is something for me to contend with too. How much do I want to manipulate this, or not? For now what’s needed is time, looking and pondering.
1. More doodles
I rather liked this short blog post by Austin Kleon - The way we talk about influence is backwards.
Rather than Van Gogh influencing Basquiat (which is kind of impossible if you think about it, and implies passivity on the part of Basquiat), try instead thinking of Baquiat working on Van Gogh…
I particularly like how, in the quoted Michael Baxandall text, this new arrangement opens up the language we use.
3. Eight week blocks
As an experiment, I’ve started the year trying to work in eight week blocks. I got the idea from a couple of different places. Now half way through my first block and I’m thinking of changing tack. I expect I’ll write more on this at a later date.
4. Nakatomi Space
Image from Die Hard
Die Hard meets the essay Lethal Theory, “walking through walls” and “what it means to bend space to your own particular navigational needs”.
A couple of conversations about personas (for artists) got me thinking about the Tom Peters book The Brand You 50. (He’s no relation, or at least not that I know of!) I’ve got the book tucked away somewhere along with his book Re-imagine. Both are full of provocative nuggets. It could be time to dig them out for a browse.
There’s a review of A Slow Take over at Eye Contact site. It’s written by John Hurrell. I was introduced to John at the opening (thanks Maggie!) and noticed later in the evening he was having a close look at my work, which was great to see. And I find it’s interesting he mentions Billy Apple as I was thinking of one of his works just the other week.
Two images I liked on instagram this week. Click through to go to the original post.
Yup, that’s Blinky Palermo.
Choir! Choir! Choir! + David Byrne singing David Bowie’s Heroes. Discovered one morning this week – a slow start and then… well, what a way to start my day.
A short article looking at the Japanese perspective of space. The author looks at four types of space:
- Relational space (wa)
- Knowledge-mobilizing space (ba)
- Location (tokoro)
- Negative space (ma)
“Instead of being about the built environment, the Japanese words for space center on the interactions and relationships among people.”
”In Japan, a building can’t be in Tokyo without Tokyo being in the building.”
One of mine from 1989-90.
Oil paint with Polyfilla on board
Detail from my sketchbook
I’ve got myself a dotted notebook again. While I have no problem drawing over lines on a page, the dots I find hard to ignore. Unlike a plain page, where anything goes, the dots encourage doodles of boxes, diagonals and straight lines.
From these drawings I’m beginning to explore similar structures in paint – just to see what may be possible (or not). As you know, paint on the end of a brush behaves quite differently from a 0.5mm ink pen on paper so there’s a translation of sorts to be negotiated. Scale, surface and colour all come into play too but for now, to keep things simple, I’m sticking to mixing only black and white on a small mdf panel.
Trying to write today’s post I find I can’t not mention Mark E. Smith, leader singer / head honcho of The Fall. As you may have read, he died yesterday at the age of 60. Others have described him and his influence far better than I ever could. I’m glad I got to see The Fall play at Bodega back in 2015. They are kind of special, by which I mean they’re quite something.
Mark E. Smith - The Fall at Bodega, Wellington, October 2015. Photo: Dan Robinson
My friend Nik wrote about my work Slipped Monochrome #2. As he said to me, it took his writing to an unexpected place. Find out where over here.
Slipped Monochrome #2, 2017 Te Tuhi
Just after writing my previous post about Scale, I came across this quote over at Daniel Levine’s website. A painter of monochromes since 1990 he says, amongst other things, ”I realized that a painting can never be large enough, but it can always be small enough. A small painting can easily fill a wall; seriousness is not inherent to scale.”
Austin Klein, writing about work/life balance succinctly sums up a poem by Kenneth Koch published in a 1998 issue of the New Yorker, “Work, family, or friends: pick two. You can have it all, just not all at once.”
Ryan Crotty, “I Like Me Better” (2017), acrylic, gloss gel, and modelling paste on canvas, 24 by 20 inches
Joseph Beuys, Lightning with Stag in its Glare
Photo © Lee Mawdsley via Tate Modern
One of the things that struck me while being in back in London, and at Tate Modern in particular, was the idea of scale.
Seeing the Joseph Beuys work Lightning with Stag in its Glare I was struck by it’s vastness and physical weight. To imagine making a work at that scale…
And it’s not that I haven’t made large works. Slipped monochrome #2 isn’t exactly small, nor was my work in the Engine Room back in 2012. Both were made with an understanding of the space they sit in; their scale came about as a solution to the question posed by the space.
Slipped Monochrome #2, 2017 (installation view)
commissioned by Te tuhi, Auckland
photo by Sam Hartnet
Of course, London is massive compared to Wellington, and we’ve no galleries here to compare with either Tate Modern or Tate Britain. This is one of many reasons whu I value travel - to see things I wouldn’t normally see and have my boundaries stretched.
The Beuys work and the architecture got me thinking, not that big is always better, but I feel there’s huge value to imagine my work at such a scale.
Sometimes the words just flow.
Other times… Well, you know how it is.
Some sort of rap / fusion / jazz plays on the radio (in a good way) thanks to Graham on the RadioActive Breakfast Show. A sketchbook lays open in anticipation. Hot, black, stove top coffee steams to the right of my keyboard, condensation forming on the cup’s inner wall.
And all of this to say I’m not sure what to write about. I’m out of practice. I could mention my trip to the UK, the light, London’s Tate galleries both old and new, or my trip to the Serpentine. Maybe a photo of the doodles I’ve made this week. Or perhaps I could share some of the thoughts and ideas I’ve got for the year ahead. I’m really not sure what to write – my judgement feels wobbly and uncertain. Of course, in many ways, what I write and how good it is, doesn’t matter (that much). Not right now. The main thing is to start.
Since returning to Wellington from my adventures at Te Tuhi, life has been busy. No chance of post show blues as I've been juggling various elements of my different work lives. A day here, half a day there, all while getting ready to go overseas. I've been feeling a little discombobulated.
That said, one of the many things I really enjoyed about being in Auckland was the breaking of my usual routine. It's all too easy to operate on automatic, acting without thought. Simple things from waking up, eating breakfast and starting the day were, out of necessity, quite different in Auckland. Since my return to Wellington I've been very reluctant to give up the space and opportunity provided by such changes of routine. I’m not entirely sure why this is though suspect it's to do with the potential for change, for improvement of some sort and the possibility of something new.
Carrying this questioning of routine over to the studio and my practice, there's the opportunity for curiosity – What's become a habit? What would be interesting to shake up? What if I stopped doing that? What if I did it this way instead?
Meanwhile in the studio (on the table) are two neglected wooden panels waiting to be sealed and gessoed. I'm uncertain as to how to handle these – I know I want more small coloured squares on them but I've yet to make a decision about the edges. Are these works going to be all about the front surface, in which case I'll leave the edges raw, or are they going to become something else, painting-objects of a sort with gessoed and painted edges.
I've no answers to any of these questions yet. Instead I'm trying to leave some space to see what may happen, to explore a little. Nothing feels fixed for the moment, instead it all has potential – and that's rather interesting.
One from the opening of my exhibition A Slow Take.
What I particularly like about this image is the sense of scale you get, all thanks to the couple looking at the work. You also get an understanding of how the painting-object sits in the gallery.
Looking up to the ceiling you can see the architectural detail the work was made in response to, the painting being twice the actual size of the ceiling vent. On the lighting rack is the single spotlight illuminating the work and making the colours really ping.
The slipped monochrome work is hidden around the corner to the right and, due to the lighting, gives a feint blue reflection on the wall on the left.
As some of you may know, I'm not the most extrovert of artists and sometimes struggle with exhibition openings. They're strange things where people mainly come to socialise, the work acting as a backdrop for conversation. It's not that people aren't interested in the work, many will come back to the gallery on a quieter day, but exhibition openings are social events first and foremost. And that's ok.
I’ve learnt if I can have a couple of interesting conversations with people then it's a win for me. Better to have a good connection with two people than fleeting connections with many.
And on Saturday good conversations I had.
Observations from others included the monochrome's screen like nature (not only it's form and colour – the notion of a green screen in film and tv – but also it's reflected light), the sensitive way I'd used the space, the reference to Richter's colour paintings and the "fake frame” of the painting.
After the opening we got our dinner from the bustling night market, returning to the gallery, café tables in a long row, to eat and chat.
I got to hear how one person experienced the work very differently to how I imagined people work – her being drawn in first by the expanse of the blue wall rather than the small tile like squares of the painting-object. She was also looking for the covered plug socket we'd used as the image for the literature which was an outcome I hadn’t considered.
Chatting with another artist, he spoke of how artists often work while carrying many question marks. This poetic image resonated with me – carrying question marks – the not knowing of all the answers which, providing the weight of the unknown isn’t too much to bare, keeps the work alive.
So, all in all a good night. And I realise one way for me to get better at openings is to have more of them…