Monthly Archives: February 2015

16. Ma eyes ain’t green and ma hair ain’t yella. It’s more like the other way around.

Work over the last 18 months has been necessarily rooted in structure. Starting from nothing I have developed a basic system, travelled down certain tangents and defined a few rule sets within which I can paint in the way I want. Thus I am still faithful to my manifesto of painting to maximise pleasure. Of course along the way I reached dead ends – points at which things became too murky and paintings began to fail too regularly, but in such cases it has been easy to return to that basic framework of success and ensure the activity could once again function correctly.

During this time I have worked almost exclusively in series’, waiting until I have a reasonable number of examples before explaining my next step. This has of course been necessary in order to thoroughly explore any idea and make sure it worked (or didn’t). Now however, having explained inside out the initial ideas it seems unnecessary to continue waiting until I have small bodies of work to document what I’m doing. A more free, fluid and immediate approach seems better and therefore the next major adjustment to my practice is not in the work itself but in the way I present it.

On a day by day, week by week basis this of course means what I put on this site. So far my online presence has mirrored my approach to painting – organised, planned, rigid and considered. However an extensive post or mass upload of images once a month (if that) now seems a little cumbersome, and the current website structure I use demands a relatively laborious procedure to update (for a non-IT professional at least). Therefore at this point making a switch to a more author friendly system that requires little more than a ‘content dump’ into a pre-existing layout makes for a far better opportunity to refresh regularly and reserve more time for painting. The plan now is to present paintings on an individual basis rather than in batches of 6 or 7. I intend to post new work as and when it is completed to be examined on its own rather than holding it back to ensure it functions as an example of a system. Furthermore it appears potentially more sympathetic to my plan to give paintings away for free. I think a continuous flow of image after image, week after week will be of more interest to the viewer than trawling through long, rarely changing galleries.

This is not to say that new series’ won’t develop of course. I very much hope and indeed expect they will. One of the most important reasons that I feel able to present paintings in a more fluid manner now is because they adhere to the rules developed whilst producing them in groups. They are all still part and borne of their series, but I no longer need them to justify the specific families to which they belong. In fact now it’s more like the other way around.

15. Ain’t the new sound just like the old sound?

Regular (ha!) visitors to my site will notice that the appearance has changed rather dramatically. An explanation of some of the reasons for this change will be forthcoming shortly.

The old site can still be viewed here, but I have reposted most of the text content into this new design in order to ensure all the relevant information is present here as well as there.

You will also see the gallery on the links at the top of the page which again contains the majority of the paintings illustrated on the old site, although now they’re all lumped together rather than segregated into their defining series’.

My intention is that this new design will allow me to post things more often and keep my practice fresh. We shall see if this turns out to be the case…

To get started, here’s a new painting:

Too many dinner parties.  2015.  Acrylic, oil & varnish on canvas.  28.0 x 20.4cm.

Too many dinner parties.
2015.
Acrylic, oil & varnish on canvas.
28.0 x 20.4cm.

 

This painting free to the first person to claim it.

14. I’ll buy a million of you, baby and every single one of them will be mine.

For me, the main reason for making a painting is to enjoy every aspect, from concept to production and finally the finished object. The final stage of this plan – to give my paintings away for free – is an attempt to complete the process in an enjoyable, satisfying manner. I have touched on some of the reasons I have abandoned the idea of achieving any commercial success from painting here and here. This being the case there is no reason not to simply give these things away to anyone who may want them.

Initially the plan was to make them available a few at a time, but quite quickly this proved awkward and demanded excessive administration, so a slight change was required. Therefore from now on any painting illustrated on my website is ‘fair game’, which is to say that if you like it, email me and assuming no one else has got there first, it’s yours for free (P&P to far flung places TBC).

13. Money talks. (You said I was cheap, you were the sale of the century).

Originally posted 9/11/2014

I visited Frieze Masters art fair recently and among the inevitably mediocre odds and sods there were more than a few things that caught my eye. Art fairs are always a mixed bag. Generally they’re that big and crammed with stuff that many items ranking both very low and very high on one’s own personal ‘spectrum of awesome’ can be found. As it goes, over the years Frieze Masters has consistently presented me with a large amount of high ranking stuff and this year was no exception.

However, the event has been criticised more than once for being an Abramovician Toys ‘R’ Us (Roman, not Marina). Fair point. Lots of the labels are marked POA to guard against a worldwide shortage of zeroes, but personally I don’t really have a big problem with that. Some things I can afford to buy, some things, like art, I can’t, but someone else can. Sometimes someone will drop a fat wad on a really very nice item and sometimes they’ll blow their load on something really shit and we can all have a good laugh. For me, perhaps because they are so wildly inaccessible, the price tags become irrelevant and can be pretty much divorced from that acute covetousness that overwhelms in the presence of things I find beautiful, enticing & delicious. For whatever reason, I know I can never have it. But I still want it bad.

Visiting Frieze Masters and seeing all that wonderful (and of course some not so much) stuff I can’t help but compare it to my own painting. Art fairs such as this are at the top of the commercial artworld. Needless to say, on this financial plane my paintings do not exist at all. Aside from a couple of weak, disinterested or long forgotten instances I have not tried hard to sell them and certainly do not rely on them as a source of income (shock horror!). Given this, they have no traditional route out of the ‘studio’ and for the mostpart are still sitting there awaiting their fate. Nevertheless for some people they may hold a certain desirability and in a corpoeal sense they are just the same as those things at Frieze Masters – objects made of paint, canvas wood and so on. And whilst it’s clear by comparison that there are qualitative heights I will never scale, by the same token there are also the depths I will avoid plumbing and on an objectively materialistc level my paintings do hold a certain modest quality of their own.

So what am I getting at here? I shall explain: These two things – An alien finance and a common materialism – have brought me to the conclusion that the most sensible and fulfilling thing for me to do would be to give away my potentially desirable but financially irrelevant (and therefore currently largely redundant) paintings for free. Therefore when I decide I’m happy to part with them I plan to make paintings available to anyone who wants them.

My hope is that this will make others happy (everyone likes a freebie) and in a small way give them the opportunity to own a thing they might not otherwise have expected to and maybe offer a little bit of materialistic fulfilment. I also expect it to make me happy that my paintings are going out there and ‘doing’ something rather than sitting in a box their whole life. And finally, by eliminating any misplaced residing concern about making painting a financially viable pursuit I can further shore up my oft repeated assertion that this is an activity undertaken purely for enjoyment and is not qualified by any other marker of success.

12. Constantly on the cusp of (not) trying.

Originally posted 7/9/2014

As established, in this most recent series of paintings I have noticed that effective abstract compositions can often appear ‘naturally’ as part of the process of priming a canvas. A simple need to cover the surface in increments restricted by the size of the brush selected, using marks laid down based on instant functional decisions builds the composition. Stopping at a point before coverage is complete determines it.

Having decided that the random mark paintings did not adequately satisfy my needs, a return to the point at which things worked well has yielded this alternative approach. It succeeds in areas where others failed largely due to speed and convenience. An ability to begin with a minimum of preparation has been a common factor amongst recent succesful paintings and this particular idea relies on no more than the availability of canvas, paint, brush and a brief opportunity to work. It offers similar valuable qualities to the monochromes in that theoretically the initial intention is just to cover a surface and at no point does it rely on my being a briliant painter.

However it does still pose certain problems; The theory of covering a canvas out of neccesity alone holds fine well when considering a support for which another fate has been prescribed – one that wasn’t meant to be a painting of this type at all, but if from the outset the plan is to arrive at that determining point of arrest eventually then purely functional decisions become impossible to maintiain. Much as I may wish that composition could develop entirely without preconception, conscious decision does exist and concern regarding personal choice, ability and failure still stands. Fallibility inevitably casts its shadow.

Given that I cannot escape making these choices, the ‘amount’ of decision (if such a thing can be quantified), or the level to which I am conscious of it varies. Sometimes it is clearly apparent as I work. On other occasions it almost disappears, but as long as it is present at whatever level it renders the theory of composition as a by product of function completely at odds with the practice. It’s a self defeating prophecy. An idea that could only truly work if it didn’t exist at all (or at least if I wasn’t aware of it, which is practically the same thing).

And it has shed some light on a theory-scuppering paradox that affects other paintings as well; To make an attempt at anything is to risk a failure and in turn reduce enjoyment, therefore my aim is to develop a process that removes this risk by eliminating the need to try. However it is clear that doing so is far from straightforward. Essentially I’m having to try very hard indeed to find a way in which I can avoid trying at all. It seems obvious now, but such a pursuit may ever be this way. Like the dreaded Chinese Finger Trap, the more one struggles against it, the tighter the snare becomes.

However, setting aside daft metaphors these paintings have proven worthy of pursuit. I enjoy making them and am pleased with the results. Developing rules, flawed as they may be has value even when it turns out that they simply cannot function as designed. They have resulted in some of the most satisfying works I have made recently and offer better opportunity to extend the painting process than the single or random mark paintings. They exhibit greater contrast in tone, brushwork and composition than the monochromes and in both production and resultant image there is more movement, variation and dynamism than in any series so far. Ultimately basic, straightforward positives trump pretentious insecurities and idiosynchratic theoretical navel gazing.

TFFT.

Time gentlemen, please.

Originally posted 26/8/2014

This series explores the development of aestheic quality as an inadvertant by-product of painting in a purely functional manner. A requirement to cover a surface with paint and the system of doing so – making one mark after another, each adjacent to the previous – can yield energetic and dynamic abstract compositions if the task is arrested earlier than its practical nature dictates. My intention is for these paintings become successful, pleasing abstract compositions that have developed naturally, reducing the need for preconceived aesthetics as far as possible.

11. In the midnight hour she cried: “More! More! More!” (The Banana of Opportunity)

It turns out you can have too much of a good thing. Who knew?

I like my recent multiple mark paintings. They have achieved a reasonable degree of success, but have done so without scaling the heights I had hoped they might. Composition, which was expected to be chief among potential problems, actually turned out to be one of the most significant positives for me and promises other potential offshoots of interest. It transpires that the main issue has been multiplication, specifically of the painted mark. Based on the paintings I have made so far the larger the number of marks on the canvas the less satisfying the finished work is likely to be. It’s far from set in stone, but it does appear to stand even within a relatively small test group.

My guess is that success in making these paintings relies in great part upon visual tension. That straightforward composition of the single mark paintings is most likely the aspect that gives them their quality. Multiple marks offer a freer overall appearance, but with each added stroke the value of those already present is reduced and individuals are lost as the group grows. One cannot see the trees for the wood because the draw is no longer to inspect and consider one single stroke on its own. The haphazard pattern born of accumulation dominates its composite parts. This is not to say that the paintings are unpleasant to look at, but to my mind they aren’t as interesting as the single mark paintings. Perhaps the familiarity of a cheerful spotty pattern, which they move toward as they get busier, lends an easy everyday quality and whilst there’s nothing wrong with that as such, my own mild disatisfaction with them relative to other works is a point worthy of consideration.

I believe another significant part of the reason for this response is that the theory can be applied to the manufacture as well as the appearance of the finished article. This is an assessment based on reflection rather than recollection as I honestly can’t remember my exact approach at the time, but I believe that knowing multiple actions were to be made could have damaged my ability to focus on each one individually. I certainly enjoyed making the paintings, but as I made each mark was I already thinking about the next? Was each moment devalued by anticipation? It’s perfectly plausible, but impossible to be sure of in hindsight. Now that this seed has been planted I can’t go back and repeat the process without the knowledge affecting the outcome, but perhaps new paintings will benefit from my increased awarenes of the possibility.

I have had another encounter with excess recently. It came during a conversation with a friend who’s a keen writer and practices his passion as and when he can. Not long ago he took advantage of a rare opportunity to reduce his hours at work in order to give more time to his writing – who wouldn’t? Initially the result was a lot more words put down and progress accelerated, but after a period the impetus began to wane and less of his time was spent at the keyboard. It’s a problem with which I am very familiar, but having been relieved of this particular burden some time ago it took his example to remind me. There was a time when I could paint more or less when I pleased. I barely made a thing. I watched a lot of TV safe in the knowledge that today’s banana of opportunity would be just as ripe tomorrow. I didn’t have to go at it like a competitive eater because I had all the time in the world. Now that the opposite is true every moment available is gratefully and gainfully employed devouring every thing in reach.

The clear and cliched conclusion then is that less can be more and despite the frustration of being unable to work on what you love for long periods there is a case to be made for restriction. Maybe application and attention, passion and commitment too, exist in finite amounts. Perhaps they are beasts that thrive in small spaces and revel in a degree of discipline. I’ve made greater effort, done more work and enjoyed it all far more snatching fifteen minutes here or an hour there than I ever did dawdling my way through a day at the studio. Value can be ascribed to all the time spent frustratedly striving to reach those moments of brief indulgence by virtue of how keenly and enthusiastically they are grasped, vigourously utilised and should the results be successful, more deeply satisfying than if we’d had all the bananas in the world. Wishing things were different may just be a naive pursuit of one’s own downfall.

I can’t be held responsible for my actions.

Originally posted 3/5/2014

Each work in this series comprised of two or more individual abstract marks. Composition, i.e the specific points at which the marks are placed within the confines of the picture plane, is randomised in order to reduce the degree to which the completed work is a result of aesthetic and design decisions made by the author.

Both the number of marks that go to make up the painting and their location within the boundry of the support’s surface are determined using a random number generator. The number of strokes is decided simply by asking the generator to select a figure between 2 and 10. The location of the marks is then prescribed by breaking the support up into a milimetre grid and plotting points by retrieving a pair of coordinates based on the painting’s width and height.

10. Mo’ money, mo’ problems.

Originally posted 18/4/2014

Given that the first mark is the worst, and that I am not pursuing reduction as my main source of interest my inclination is to move in the other direction and add rather than subtract. Of course, as has been well documented (by me), with the addition of more painted marks comes increased risk of failure, specifically the exponentially multiplied possibility of poor composition.

With a single mark one has only so many relationships fo consider – One isolated gesture seen in reference to the boundries of the picture plane alone, but adding more introduces the problem of compositional clash and destroys the simplicty of a single mark. Decisions become more difficult. Whereas purely intuitive ‘composition’ of one stroke is relatively low risk (it could go pretty much anywhere and look fine), combining mutiple marks becomes rather daunting. As the potential for making bad decisions grows the level of enjoyment swiftly recedes.

One recent example seen below. An intutively made composition of 3 small green strokes on a rich rose ground. It was a struggle. I had to abandon it, scrape it back and do it again. Twice. And I would have gone on doing so, but for time constraints, frustration and boredom. At the time I finished/gave up on the painting, I really didn’t like it. I’ll admit I’ve softened a little now, but it’s still unsatisfactory to me and frankly would have remained out of sight had I not felt due diligence ditcated its presence as example.

I won't be held responsible for my actions 2014 Oil & gloss on canvas 39.8 x 49.9cm

I won’t be held responsible for my actions
2014
Oil & gloss on canvas
39.8 x 49.9cm

The conclusion then is that the less decision making I have to do, the better the painting is likely to be. As evidenced above enjoyment derived from the physical act of painting is undermined by the angst involved in deciding where the marks should go and I perceive an intrinsic lack of quality in paintings I have conceived. Whether this is down to hyper-criticism, a desire to ever improve, or just a deep rooted, irrational aversion to anything of my own authorship I don’t know. It’s probably all three, but it exists as a fun-sucker whatever it is. To ‘worry’ about what to do as I’m doing it completely devalues the undertaking because the complete painting is of supposedly diminished quality as a result of of the falibility of my choices.

Therefore decision on composition would be better made before construction begins – and moreover it should be outsourced. I am keen to attempt driving a wedge between the cognitive process of inception and the manual act of production. That way the likelyhood that I will be pleased with the result is significantly increased. To do this it seems that I will need the painting to be mapped out before I begin, just as the Preachin’ paintings are. Reducing the level of authorship – relieving myself of the weighty burden of decision – apparently promises an improvement in practical and perceptive enjoyment.

I have considered a few ways i which to do this: Replicating found random compositions like knots in wood grain or the arrangement of bits of discarded chewing gum on the street, but this is unsatisfctory as it adds a layer of reference that is entirely irrelevant and confusing. I even considered asking others to draw a series of points to define my compositions, but that’s just shifting the problem of poor decision making onto them. And they’d make even worse choices than I would. A series of genuinely randomised points seems to be the best, most pure solution. A composition of this nature is entirely artifical and unique, with no further external input whatsoever. It ought to allow me to make marks free of other concerns and fulfils the enduring and overriding requiremnt of offering greater opportunity for indulgence in the act.