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.

Delayed Gratification

This morning I’m enjoying the desire to paint but not being able to. I’ve a couple of canvases in their very early stages – see the one above – and before I develop them any further I want some other surfaces to hand. This allows me to leave a work early in it’s development, start on another and keeps me from becoming stuck or too precious. It’s good to keep things moving.

Drawing talk notes

500 drawings - detail 500 drawings - detail

500 drawings (details)
charcoal on paper
approx a3 size sheets

I recently heard students from Massey have seen and raved about my 24 Drawings at the Parkin. I’ve been asked to go and chat with them about how I use drawing in my practice, and what my thoughts were behind the work in the show. Here are my initial, very rough notes…


Notes for a talk about 24 Drawings and how I use drawing in my practice - sfd.

Some context

Drawing as a foundational skill.

A means to express thought / ideas

Villa Arson, Nice – ink drawings on a4 paper 500 drawings

Grid format

  • Eye jumps to make connections
  • less is more, more is even more

Every few years - a drawing blat.
Pile of cheap paper, crayon / charcoal / brush and ink / pen
Could even be / has been a pad of post-it notes
Not precious.
A means of loosening up, of getting the need to draw out of my system.
They don’t have to be anything more than what they are.

Drawing as a means to quickly explore and develop ideas

Drawings / doodles in my notebook
*I don’t see “doodles” as being pejorative

Scale of mark relative to size of page

Also, drawing on the computer. Making works to a specific size. Digital drawing as planning and testing.

24 Drawings - my thoughts

The urge, after making so much hard edged work, to do something looser.

A surprise for people who only know my recent NZ practice.
(I’ve a history of mark making, unbeknownst to many who know my practice since I’ve been in NZ)

Not thinking / second guessing
Conscious / Unconscious
Material experience, visceral, Not thinking about a finished piece, making drawings to “scratch an itch”
Material feel / sensitivity (slip and resistance)

Accompanying statement – in part a petulant response to being asked to describe the work – you can see what the work is!

Keep churning it out - problems solved through making, worked out on the page (as opposed to thinking about making).

(Clarity of) Intent
Confidence in mark making

Images of..

  • 500 drawings
  • drawings / doodles in sketchbook
  • older drawings in sketchbook around the time of 24 Drawings
  • drawings made for Te Tuhi show
  • other Illustrator drawings?

Change medium, change your thinking

This week…

This week:

  • I’ve carried on drawing in my sketchbook:

sketchbook drawings 1

sketchbook drawings 2

  • I’ve moved things around at home in an attempt to make more “studio space” and now know I really need to get rid of a few things.

  • I’ve been talking with friends about ways of making work – 1) Making works specifically for an exhibition or space (eg. my show A Slow Take at Te Tuhi), and 2) Making work for the sake of making work, trusting the process, and then from the resulting works putting together an exhibition. At the moment my practice is in the later state, hence the need for some space.

  • I found myself looking for images of / from Crap Hound magazine, though quite why I can’t recall.

Eyes- we never sleep

The layout reminds me of a big colouring book I had as a kid, and is something I’ve always thought might make for an interesting painting or two. It also reminds me of a book I grew up with, Draw: How to Master the Art by Jeffery Camp. It breaks down drawing into different elements, eg. eyes, nose, ears, clouds, leaves, etc. providing lots of examples from other artists and actively encourages you to copy them.

  • I’ve had thoughts about creating a three month residency for myself. I imagine staying in Wellington, renting a studio for three months and finding ways to raise the money necessary to cover my material and living costs during this time.

  • And over a beer or two, I articulated the struggles I have with ideas of narrative in my work, and how, borrowing a phrase from Kristin Hirsh, “I don’t really do about”. There’s more in this to explore and write about (to really clarify my thinking) but that’s for another day.

In the meantime have a great weekend!

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Sketchbook drawings or, ways to divide a canvas.