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.


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