Journal

Just painting

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Detail
acrylic on canvas

One evening last week, sitting down at my large white table with The West Wing playing on my laptop, painting on a smallish canvas and rediscovering the relaxed pleasure of painting. Not thinking about a show, not trying to be something, not making a grandiose statement. Just painting.

Condensed energy, Frank, and jazz

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Hidden & heavy (new old forms)
acrylic on canvas
400 × 350mm
2018

I’m looking at the recent group paintings I’ve made, working out which ones feel successful and which aren’t quite there yet. The former have a certainty about them, a condensed energy. They’re not lacking anything. Nothing need be added or can be taken away. The paintings stand on their own.

My struggle now is how to regularly access that condensed energy and those moments in which a work becomes complete.

I may be able to reverse engineer the construction of these successful work into various elements – lay down a background colour, put in a net like form, place a solid form over an area that’s not working, etc.

Such a replicable formula may be a useful starting point but it doesn’t necessarily invoke the moment the disparate parts of the painting come together, nor does it guarantee the feeling of “condensed energy”. Scale has its part to play here (the marks in relation to the canvas and to each other), colour relationships, texture, shape, etc. While these formal elements are important I suspect the key is the clarity of my intent.

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It’s 8:59pm and I’ve just read the following passage from the foreward in Frank Chimero’s, The Shape of Design. In it Liz Danzico quotes from one of Frank’s emails:

You know what I love about jazz and improvisation? It’s all process. 100%. The essence of it is the process, every time is different, and to truly partake in it, you have to visit a place to see it in progress. Every jazz club or improv comedy theater is a temple to the process of production. It’s a factory, and the art is the assembly, not the product. Jazz is more verb than noun. And in a world riddled with a feeling of inertia, I want to find a verb and hold on to it for dear life.

The yellow highlight is mine – a studio is also, “a temple to the process of production”. (Remember, Warhol had his factory). It’s this mention of process which resonates right now. Painters paint. Painting not as noun but verb. Only through “the playing”, through improvising (around a structure, a form), only then is there a living, breathing space in which all the various elements have the opportunity to combine and become complete.

Befuddled

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Heels to Jesus (working title)
acrylic on canvas
230 × 300mm
2019

Occasionally artists’ make works that befuddle them. They are alien, appearing on the very edge of (or just outside) current knowledge and understanding. Heels to Jesus is for me, one of those works.

It’s been sitting on my wall for a few weeks now and will sit there a little longer. The top third feels like it may need some more work, especially when compared to the outlined shapes at the bottom of the piece.

I still don’t know what to make of it – it doesn’t yet feel like it’s one of mine. For now, it’s enough to live with its strangeness.

Making rather than thinking

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acrylic on watercolour paper
560 × 750mm
2019

I can’t think my way out of this one – instead I’m feeling my way as I make, living with works I’m unsure of, not always knowing what’s working. It’s unnerving and exciting, and I don’t know what the outcome will be.

Small temporary boundaries – three works on paper today, five finished paintings in the next five weeks – provide momentary focus in the fog but I’m groping around, trusting my making instincts.

Once enough work is made, once I’ve some data, I’ll analyse and tease out themes and, I hope, find an underlying framework from which to operate. For now though, the only option is to keep churning things out.