Ways of working

Work in progress. Gary Peters. Working this week I’ve been reminded of how different the process of making these new paintings is to the way I make my hard edge paintings.

For the later the final form is known even if final colour choices are not. In these new paintings I start with no such knowledge. Forms are found, constructed, and erased during the making of the work. Decisions about composition, balance, and colour are made on the fly. When there is forethought and planning, this is often abandoned as soon as the brush hits the canvas.

It’s a challenging way of working, with plenty of room for doubt, yet experience tells me to hold my nerve, to sit with the unknown, to be ok with feeling uncomfortable, frustrated and uncertain. Trust the process – keep painting, remember to step away when needed and make sure to return the next day – and all will be ok.

Work in progress

Work in progress, August 2018. Gary Peters.

Work in progress, August 2018. Gary Peters.

Work in progress, August 2018. Gary Peters.

I’ve started to add colour to these new works much sooner than I expected. I expect the paintings to change a fair bit over the coming weeks as I find, destroy and rebuild forms to reach the moment when everything locks into place.

A manifesto (of sorts) 0.2

Be open, be honest.

Trust my instincts.

Embrace the random (it’s all meaningless anyway).

To paraphrase, make the work like nobody is watching.

Make the work like I don’t give a fuck (because I really do give a fuck).

My role as an artist is to serve the work.

Drink the best beer I can afford, and don’t be afraid of the cheap stuff. A cheap, cold lager on a hot summer’s day really hits the spot.

Context, context, context.

Engage with the history of art. Or not. But at least make the decision a conscious one.

In fact, make sure all decisions are conscious ones.

Don’t be lazy.

Push the work.

Be wary of formula.

Good work has it’s own internal logic.

Fight the resistance – get off my arse, get in to the studio and get to work.

There are no shortcuts worth taking in painting – I have to put in the hours.

Amplify my idiosyncrasies.

Intent matters.

Be true (whatever that is).

Never paint drunk.

Believe in my work – if I don’t, no-one else will.

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Open your eyes and you will see it
It’s obvious, it’s love.

Do it now by Half Japanese

Work in progress - Guston pink.

Work in progress
acrylic on canvas
508 × 609mm


Detail of painting - loose brushmarks.

Detail of painting - paynes grey brush marks.

Detail of painting - loose marks making a box like form.

I’m working on six surfaces at the moment with the intention of discovering (through making) where this new body of work wants to go. I’m feeling my way, discovering / erasing / rebuilding forms.

For now I’m mostly keeping things to Paynes Grey (mixed with a regular semi-gloss medium) and Titanium white, though yellow has crept in on one of the surfaces. The lack of colour allows me to concentrate on the forms and brush strokes. That said, I’ve been having strong urges to add colour but for now, I’ll keep things simple.

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.