Originally posted 16/8/2013
Over the course of 2012 it became clear that to continue making large scale work in the series If this is paradise I wish I had a lawnmower on anything like a regular basis was highly impractical. Lack of time and suitable space rendered it an abortive pursuit and as such for close to a year I made no paintings at all. Whilst I was able to make greater use of other media during this time (the Project) the desire to return to painting remained. In order to begin again and make painting on a regular basis a viable pursuit a complete and radical overhaul of my working practice was required. An assessment of exactly what I wanted to achieve on the simplest level and how best to do so was necessary, therefore my question was;
What the first and most important reason I can give for painting?
The simple answer is fun, enjoyment and pleasure. For the sensation engendered by the process of making a painting and the materialist satisfaction offered by the finished object. If I am to simplify, concentrate, distill my practice down to the essential then it is a selfish and indulgent personal pursuit undertaken to improve my mood. Perfectly acceptable reasoning in my book, but how best to achieve it? Apparently simple enough: Identify the good aspects – those which enhance pleasure and retain them. Select the bad ones which diminish my enjoyment and reduce or remove them as far as it is practical to do so.
Critical to the intended end result is that I identify these aspects as broadly and simply as possible. I want to avoid complexity and ambiguity in my decisions. With any painting there are myriad intricacies that act to push it toward success or failure. Bits that work and are pleasing, and bits that don’t. And then bits that might, but might not and may remain unresolved one way or the other. I need to set aside these things and focus as strictly as possible on simplifying the aspects in question into 2 straightforward lists, which are as follows:
Painting (the act)
Aesthetic characteristics (colour, texture, shape)
Lack of quality
Failure to finish
With these lists in place the next task is to devise a way in which the good can be indulged and the bad at least reduced.
In terms of a physical process and satisfying result I derive a good deal of pleasure from painting outside of an ‘artistic’ context, as part of a DIY job for example. The enjoyment of paint as a substance, the physical process of laying it down and the resultant change of colour and texture all appeal a great deal and so painting in this guise fulfills a great part of the physical requirements in question, making it a perfectly valid inclusion in my new way of working. My enjoyment is not confined to the making of a Painting in the sense of a final, finished artwork, but can be found more widely in paint and painting as behaviour.
As it happens I do like painting canvases. Apart from being amongst the more convenient supports they’re nice things to paint. I like the contrast of the fabric against paint. They’re flexible in size and shape and identify as a Painting in an artistic context. Without wishing to contradict the previous paragraph too much I am still interested in Paintings being the final result. As much as the process and context of painting as opposed to making a Painting need not be differentiated, the resultant object is still to be considered in a different arena to a skirting board.
Clearly, the majority of my ‘increase’ list focuses on physical concerns of painting. The only aspect of a less tangible quality on the list is the title. In general I like to title my paintings because it gives me a chance to use language – something not so easily offered by a visual medium. The majority of titles I’ve used in the past have been lifted from things I’ve read or heard. By far the most common source is music – many are song lyrics, but literature, television, radio, conversations I have or am party to are all potential sources. A turn of phrase I find appealing which seems to sit well with the work in question is as much as I require. I see no reason to change this method as it is already rooted quite simply in my enjoyment of language.
The problems identified in the Bad column are all based on failure in some form or another. Error is a pit wide, deep, and inescapable, and to state the obvious, reduces quality. Impatience stems from a lack of working time and failure to complete a painting is often symptomatic of this. The biggest disappointment I usually feel is that my paintings aren’t better. The drawing isn’t quite right. The composition could be improved. Aspects were rushed and I ought to have taken more care. To reduce these problems I need to reduce the chance of getting things wrong.
Faithful figuration, which could describe the vast majority of my work until now, is subject to many strict rules and too often I have not the skill, application or patience to follow them all as rigidly as I ought. Commonly a finished painting just makes me curse my laziness or inability and I continually make unfavourable comparisons with the hatefully superior work of others. Much as the production of the work is on the whole enjoyable, the result is never as pleasing as I’d like.
To cut out such problems then, the obvious change is to abandon the rules of figuration and address abstraction, but this can bare a multitude of alternative problems. If there aren’t any rules, where to start? And where to finish? And if you are able to make both those decisions, how do you know if the result is good, bad, or other? Options are problems.
So, perhaps certain rules are required, but they need to be few, straightforward, easy to follow, quick to execute and leave as little room for error as possible. The previously sited DIY job would be subject to such a set of rules:
1. Select a suitable surface
2. Paint it this colour
3. Make it look nice
Based on the criteria outlined so far I invariably achieve far more success undertaking DIY jobs than I do making a painting. Therefore the clear solution appears to be to apply these rules to painting in an artistic context. They offer all the physical aspects I seek to retain, whilst significantly reducing those aspects I aim to avoid; The opportunity to make an error is diminished when all I am doing is painting a surface in a single colour. I am able to work quickly, even on a large scale and therefore the likelyhood of my becoming impatient is reduced. I can complete Paintings; make satisfying painted objects and can indulge in the paint and the painting of a Painting entirely and without distraction.
I am in the early stages of implimenting this new approach. I have no doubt that as long as I continue to pursue it adjustments are likely to occur, however at this point it feels a refreshing and exciting change, not just because it will offer me the chance to return to working in a way I so deeply enjoy, but because it has opened up my approach and encouraged me to consider ways of working I might previously have dismissed.