The Turps Diaries: January 2017

Following the 1st review, I’ve started a Turps Journal where I’ve addressed issues in more detail, with illustrations, your comment about origins of work. I am mindful, as you noted, to avoid narcissistic starting or end points; it seems the way out of that rabbit hole is actually the notion of sunyata (emptiness).

In November, I viewed an exhibition of Avant-Garde, and had a short time to view an exhibition of Japanese expressionism in the 1950s and 1960s at Bozar in Brussels. I have also just seen an intimate exhibition of the Guggenheim abstract expressionists (ING Art Centre), which took me much closer to artists such as Frankenthaler, Mitchell and Francis (what a way of seeing!)

Two paintings so far from the first two shows: “Investigation of an idea under suspicion” was done very much in the moment, built up in layers (4 colours were used) and is more spontaneous. “Emergent” is testing the boundary between finished and unfinished, through the notion of emergence. Looking again at Investigation, following the ING show, I think I need to leave more white space for the images to breath and be less bounded by the surface itself.

Investigation of an idea under suspicion Emergent

Your comment on measuring success struck home. Abstracts are in some respect always failures or at least approximations of the ideation; getting it ‘right’ in some sense is impossible, at least empirically. But perhaps no one notices apart from ourselves, as each piece is itself an abstraction in the way to the next. This makes me more comfortable with the pieces that I think don’t work, but makes me wonder how to better integrate the process from one to the next: I tend to do one piece at a time, and if the idea holds, then a couple more emerge; should I think more in a series?

I have thought further on abstractions that use science as a starting point, as apart from, say introspection. The bonding of the subjective and empirical will never be a happy one, if all an artist is doing is visualising scientific phenomena, rather than what they mean. For instance, what is the visualisation of the physicist’s view that reality is made up of “fields”? This is to draw a parallel with Cubism and Relativity Theory. Conceptually, the two pieces I put up on Private View (sfmuto technique) is each a 3D painting (surface and layers) and the image is more how fields produce the phenomena we associate with the real world and which scientists study.

I read Kantrowitz [ ] “The man behind the curtain, what cognitive science reveals about drawing” (J Aesth Ed, 45(1)2012: 1-14). This has helped influence my perceptions and no doubt will influence practice.

On origins

Few of my works arise in a linear process from sketches. Instead, a sui generis approach achieves a degree of disintermediation of the creative process, using the first marks as the starting point (in the sense of De Bono, it doesn’t matter where you start as long as you start).

I often find photography a helpful prompt; photographers such as Edward Burtynsky and Andreas Gursky have photographed scenes from high and distant perspectives.


Gursky: Montparnasse

Gursky: Rhine II

Burtynsky: Salt Pans in India

Montparnasse conveys urban isolation. It is anticipated that the bulk of humanity will live in cities in the future. This is not something necessarily to be celebrated, though. I did a sketch looking at the wall of Toronto building lights from my hotel room; I used to live in Toronto, so the city is familiar.


Skyline sketch

In the City 1

In the City 2

In the City 3

While the gridded type structure did not end up on the paintings, I took a perspective looking down, to capture the immensity and isolation. I put in little red marks for figures, but in hindsight, think they would be better left out. One of the paintings was chosen for the cover of a local magazine, which I thought odd, given my area is quite rural.

In Rhine II, Gursky shows the strong lines in the landscape. I painted a series “Six view of Dungeness” with that imagery in mind, but no sketching.

3 of the “6 Views of Dungeness”

Ellsworth Kelly did plant paintings throughout his life, and which were broadly ignored; however, they are seen as a significant creative source. For Kelly, they offered him a “bridge” as he called it to his abstraction. After the fact, it is much easier to explain, but how does it explain the here-and-now for him? I suspect they were to him a type of ‘found moment’, without antecedent which is important to understanding how he then approached the plant itself. By pruning the plant to the immediacy of his cognitive experience of it, I think he found a way that allowed him to empty his mind of ‘ego’ and self-aware cognitive processes, to get to the unmediated experience of the plant. The progression from that to a particular abstraction may not be direct, but it is the same mind at work.

I explored this process in the sequence below, to the level of something broadly representative but have not progressed to using this to do anything that would be an abstraction in a meaningful sense to me..


1st extraction

2nd extraction


Plant sketch en plein air

Watercolour sketch, paper

Acrylic on 50×100 cm canvas

I explore many ideas using Sumi-e technique as it helps me explore the here and now, and freer expressiveness. They are not really something on the way to something else but stand for themselves from which I get ideas for other pieces. These examples are all about 30 cm on a side, but I have sheets of Japanese paper up to 2m in length to explore when I’m feeling more courageous!


Japanese ink on rice paper

Japanese ink on rice paper

Japanese ink on 300 gsm paper

Japanese ink on rice paper

Japanese ink on rice paper

On exhibitions

The visit to Bozar in Brussels was useful in two respects. The Japanese expressionists presented works that were more gestalt in nature (all over abstraction). Mixing the paint on the wood with paint scrapers, I used more curves than I’m used to, producing “Investigation of an idea under suspicion”.

The Avant-Garde show had me asking what makes a work Avant-Garde and not something else; indeed, the demarcation seems unclear and I wondered what made the AG, apart from self-description; perhaps that is the historical point. Eliasson’s Ventilator was shown; he says it is a work viewers need to complete (co-produce); doing this is also an objective in my work. However, I found the work a bit empty in the co-production sense. If the point of AG is to make a break (rupture appears to be the preferred word) with what is taken as received wisdom, I wasn’t clear how this worked. The show positioned AG in military art, and a fascination with technology, invention, machines, as well as war, weapons, positioning them as the hinge points or watersheds; this is a particularly aggressive interpretation of the work, and may indeed exclude wider logic. I left still wondering how AG is to be played out today, despite a suggestion of apocalypse and prophecy. Is that an interesting, intelligible and even accurate proposition? I worry about claims like this lapsing into empty commentary (much of the exhibition catalogue is unintelligible). Can one really be an Avant-Garde artist any more?