The Turps Diaries: October 2016

I try to position my work in the ‘here and now’; our brains see things before ‘we’ are aware of them, so I’m trying to get at that point in my work. The locus of attention is on the immediate. This is, as you note, risking a theosophist or mystical position, but I am trying to get inside the cognitive rather than euphoric experience. I read Klee, but had not read Kandinsky. I had found Malevich’s ‘The Non-objective World’ thought-provoking.

You ask how I build a painting. I don’t sketch much, at least specific paintings are not sketched in advance and then produced like taking dictation from the sketch. I start with a mark, “I start here”, and then evolve the image. I mix on the surface as a rule. At a certain point, completeness beckons, so I stop. I think I do this partly because of time constraints with other activities. I want to get my hands dirty quickly, to engage with the materials and the ideas more directly, with as little intermediation as possible. Upon reflection, I think to sketch would remove me from the here and now. I do have some sketches of ‘ideas’, and I use my photography portfolio as well for ideas. I suppose I don’t understand the purpose of sketching. In Marion Milner’s book, ‘On Not Being Able to Paint’, she sketches in her psychoanalytical journey, but I think to no end. I used to go the Albright-Knox in Buffalo to see their collection of abstract expressionists, particularly Clyfford Still; I suppose there is a lesson in how he integrated his sketching into his primary works. [added comment 12 Nov. I had a handmade paper sketchbook of watercolours; a visitor to my studio asked if I would sell it to them which I did….]

I’ve also tried to make sense of the art/science connection. Your commentary on the illustrations was interesting. I have gone to shows at the e.g. Wellcome Trust and come away a bit underwhelmed. In Arthur Miller’s “Einstein, Picasso: Space, Time and the Beauty That Causes Havoc”, he observes that Cubism was Picasso’s way of visualising relativity theory. I don’t see in the art/science collaborations visual power of that order. I guess I’m hoping that artists will get beneath the ‘surface’, perhaps try less hard to work from the obvious scientific imagery, and grasp the underlying and perhaps more relevant dynamics. The physical world actually does not exist but is made of fields; we just think the table is solid.

While I like the early art, right back to the cave paintings, I am moved by the abstract expressionists, and see relevance as a mode of thinking rather than a ‘style’ or an ‘era’. It is just the historical bit in between that I understand less.

You observe that I use a variety of approaches. I worry that this shows less commitment to a particular form of expression. How do artists balance the authenticity of their own endeavours to explore, with work that expresses their personality if methods keep changing, or is that just me worrying it is a weakness?

You wrote: “It may be particularly important in view of the fact that you are engaged in an ‘abstract’ (for want of a better word) idiom. Since abstraction does not directly reflect (or maybe it is better described as directly copying) the ‘nameable’ world around us, there is an imperative for a cogent thought process to drive the visually creative side: To work objectively from the concrete world around us puts certain demands on how we make work, how we measure its success or otherwise. With abstraction though the demands are not external and that means we have to establish our own set of exigencies.”

That made me think about the comprehensibility of my paintings and whether they were ‘successful’. Kant has a term, ‘ding an sich’; I want my paintings to be the thing itself, but while not about a nameable reality, they are about one with referents and meaning that can be known. I would not want my pieces to be mute (or indeed have that “Narcissistic echo of self-reference”). I accept that the painting itself is an object distinct from what it depicts.

Taking all that together, I’d propose that in the TURPS course, the challenge is to identify my set of exigencies, understand the visual lexicon I’m using and how it might evolve, and produce art from that learning.