The ‘X’ has numerous uses and associations; negative, positive, historical, contemporary. It is arguably the most basic written signifier, being simultaneously an illiterate’s substitute signature, an indication of error, a confirmation of political leaning, a kiss and of course a letter of the alphabet to list but a very few. It is also one of the simplest and most natural forms of mark making. I have observed it personally as the immediate precursor to a child’s use of written language, long before contextual or communicative connotations come into play.
Ordinarily I would avoid any charged or symbolic subject, but the ‘X’ has such a wide and inconsistent relevance that I don’t believe my use can possibly be pinned down to any one specific meaning. The aspect I’m most interested in is the natural, instinctive way the marks are made, not the way in which they may subsequently be hijacked.
I have pressed it into employment as a vehicle through which to indulge in mark making. If what I have observed is universal and not unique to my daughter, then we are all deeply familiar with drawing or writing an ‘X’ from a very early age. It is the most basic abstract combination of 2 marks and I believe that my familiarity with making those marks in that formation, born of continued use over decades, allows me to release some of the tension associated with ‘drawing’ and embrace the freedom that comes with writing.
It is true that the tension cannot be broken immediately. As familiar as these marks are, biro in hand, swapping ballpoint for brush changes the scale and the emphasis. Initial experiments on a 2-stroke painting (illustrated above) did not prove entirely satisfactory. It takes time for the freedom to build (or the tension to seep away) and so my solution has been to paint the ‘X’ multiple times – 10 or more, over and over so that no single stroke can be held responsible for the final form:
Repetition loosens the movement and cumulative value defines the end result, thus I need not be precious about any one mark in particular. I am freed to dab away at the canvas and allow the natural beauty of the paint to appear through loose and perfunctory marks.