Lip smacking

I’ve been wanting to write more deeply, more essay like, for some time yet have been struggling to make the necessary time available. What follows is not researched, is full of opinion that may well change. It’s a “shitty first draft” and there are a couple of ideas in there. Here’s 395 words for you…

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The notion of thinness came up in a couple of conversations I had this week around some contemporary painting and art in NZ.

Like a meal from McDonalds or BurgerKing, the first taste is satisfying, salty, sweet and fills a gap. Lip smacking. Ten or twenty minutes later and you’re hungry again, feeling cheated and undernourished.

I was wondering if this thinness, in part, has something to do with the notion of second-hand modernism and seeing work in reproduction rather than in the flesh. (One of the things I miss from the UK is the relatively easy access I had to significant, historical works of art. To be able to go to the Tate or the National and just have a wander around.)

And to be clear, I’m not meaning the thinness of paint – works by Peter Doig, using the thinnest of paint – are not in themselves thin.

The notion of nourishment is a useful one. How much nourishment does the work give you, not just today but over time. How much looking is there? Does the work offer anything more after that initial contact and wow or is it spent?

And of course, the pertinent question for an artist, a painter, is how to overcome this thinness.

Some ideas:

  • practice, practice, practice
  • an awareness of art history and where their work sits in this history,
  • having a clear intent in the making of the work and having this intent come through to the viewer,
  • a visible confidence in the marks (again this is to do with intent and practice)

Also, I’m wondering if the wrong question is being asked. Contemporary art, hell society, seems to fetishise the new (and the young). I suspect trying to answer the question, “How do I create something new, something ground-breaking in painting?” is a mistake. It’s the wrong question.

A better question (or questions?) need to be asked, one rooted in the history of painting, taking in the post-object idea based art since Duchamp’s Fountain, in the actual physicality of making a painting and where you are (I am) as an artist.

My hunch is this better question (or perhaps the answer) lies in finding ways to make the work better, with leaning into the deep history of art, with emphasising my awkwardness and idiosyncrasy, and at times being uncomfortable with some of what I’m making.

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