Journal

Scale

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.

Area of wall painted blue, moved to the left and down by a palm's width. 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.

Start

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.

A Slow Take and some discombobulation

Slipped monochrome #2, 2017
acrylic (Oxymoron) on wall
5720 × 2940mm

Very modern, 2017
acrylic on wooden panel
1180 × 1180mm

 

 

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.

At the opening

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.

Openings, conversations and carrying question marks

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…