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Little boxes

Geometric ink drawings on dotted paper

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.

Five things this Friday

1. 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

2. 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

3. 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.”

4. 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.”

5. These paintings by Ryan Crotty look rather nice. Whoever took the photos has done a great job. (And for you sports fans, no, not that Ryan Crotty).

Ryan Crotty, “I Like Me Better” (2017), acrylic, gloss gel, and modelling paste on canvas, 24 by 20 inches

Slipped Monochrome #2 in Three Acts

by Nikolas T. Brocklehurst


Prologue To begin is to establish an edge, a boundary, a periphery from which its other shall be measured.

Act 1 Surface tension: The tale of Surface and Void

Act 1, scene I Patrons enter gallery “What do you see?” “I see depth, I see an endless blue void, it’s kinda peaceful”, “what do you see?” “Hmmm, hm I can only see surface, solid, stable. oh no wait, I can see the other too.” “Oh yeah I see that too, hmm” “Hmm” “Yeah hmm”

Act 1, scene II Staring upon Slipped Monochrome #2, our vision quickly adjusts and readjusts only to adjust again. It is searching for something, anything to grasp onto before it falls flat upon the surface or falls forever into the void. No sooner has the surface been discovered than it dissolves and we slip below it. As the descent begins we are brought back to the surface, gasping for that most ethereal substance before we sink once more.

To evoke void is to suggest an engulfing emptiness, to consider surface is to acknowledge an impenetrable fullness. The irony of course is that they are both visibly invisible. Without referent to firmly grasp we are visually trapped in the absurdity of a Zenoian Paradox.

This flickering between the infinite and the finite, definite and indefinite, this multistable perception of cosmogony as void and self-evidence as surface allude to the actual object searched for. A moment that can only be observed after its instantiation in the acknowledgment a pre and post object, that is the unknowable ontological moment

Act 2 Masquerade: Place, space and form

Act 2, scene I “Hey, look at that!” “At what” “That”

Our patrons take step back

“And there” “hmm” “Hmm”

Act 2, scene II Embracing architecture as anti-stretcher, Slipped Monochrome #2 descends onto the floor and out of the gallery. Exposing the referential wall, it traces place to make form manifest. Forced to acknowledge its own dimensionality, its micron thin physicality it gaines a sculptural weight. Yet the work’s actual intrusion within the space of place, reveals an installational spatiality where we are invited into the work as the gallery is subsumed into the experience.

To see Slipped Monochrome #2s shedding of its painterly functionality as a critique of the modernism’s aspirations of transcendence and its place of worship, legitimises their intent. Instead it is precisely the gallery’s inability to hold SM2 within the confines of form and place that translates critique to expansion.

Brought to the for is not the play of the signified but their substitution, suddenly the wall exposed comes to stand for each and every wall, the white walls of the gallery, the timber walls of a house, the brick walls of garden, the tile floor of the gallery becomes every floor, the street, the earth. Thus Slipped Monochrome #2 does not universalise the subject but subjectises the universal and ubiquitous. Despite a guise of modernism, it negates the singularity of the enterprise and undertakes the postmodern turn.

Act 3, scene I Finding the marvelous: The zoetropic effect.

Our patrons continue their metaphorical journey. “Hmm, why is it like that” “What?” “Umm, you know, unsure of itself” “Oh! hmm, umm, i think it is very sure of itself” “Hmm” “Hmm”

Our patrons head toward the exit. “Hey, check that out, it…”

Act 3, scene II The simplicity of Slipped Monochrome #2 exposes the complexity of creation. Not of an ideal art but of the idea of art itself. The works literalness acts to disembody and lay bare an inability to define itself without referencing the multiplicity of others. Taking it beyond Duchampian considerations of the artist, dispelling illusion or exposing distraction it rather acknowledges the continual search for itself.

Through the act of memesis askew, the work places those definitional boundaries into instability. Oscillating between assumed opposites, void/surface, painting/sculpture, architecture/installation, modern/postmodern, referent/referentless, fact/fiction it alludes of an inbetweenness, those spaces, moments, definitions that have aspects of each other without being either.

This zoetropic effect is as much in life as it is in art. If the device is seized it ceases to be anything other than its constituent parts, yet if encouraged unveils the marvelous.

Epilogue To end is to define the scope of measurement. Yet it is the pause in between that most valued.


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.


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.