The Turps Diaries: June 2017

NOTE: This review involved my main mentor and two of the other course mentors commenting on the submitted work.

The reflection has focused on the challenge of developing not so much a ‘style’, but a visual vocabulary. Does that make sense?

I quite liked the work of Pae White who speaks of exploring spaces between things. Juan Usle was a real treat to discover; I learnt he paints to the rhythm of his heart, much as the late composer John Tavener used his heart murmur as a natural metronome. The reference to Taschist work was new, but the link to Cobra helped (there’s a Bruxelles restaurant full of the work of the Cobra artist Alechinsky).

While I don’t do tapestry now, I have been influenced by how light is mixed on the woven surface since blending light leads to white not black. I think you understood the objective of the Emergent works, which were about how patterns emerge from complex even chaotic systems and the result is in the mind; as I wasn’t channelling Richter, I think of these now as exploratory rather than end pieces.

Where I think I’m going

The critiquing has helped me reflect on the purposefulness of what I’m doing, rather than just pushing paint around. This led me to look anew at the way I went about thinking through what I paint. A number of ‘trajectories’ emerged from this reflection of which two are for review submission.

The first trajectory for want of a rubric, I’ll call Fields: What I did was replace geometric shapes with more gestural ones, gave the shapes more room to breath, and did not cover the surface with a colour overlay. The results capture space more materially than in previous work where everything was under layers of glaze. These are giving me a way of bridging to Sumi-e (and more Zen), through ambiguity and simplification. What had been a block to overcome was the boundaries of the worked surface. Colour is now more challenging, as I’ve usually mixed on the surface so need to see how this works procedurally so colours lack subtlety at this stage. I suspect I’m rediscovering something already in the aether, but is usefully challenging the starting points I had when I entered this programme, so I am not where I started, which is good.

The second trajectory is about Framing: I took Missing Shade of Blue from the last round and reworked it. The piece is more documenting this than a final piece as I need to think on this further. I have done a lot of paintings where they are layered using tape to cover areas that get painted over, then removing the tape. The tape in this case sharpened the framing and the shades of blue, which are randomly covered with thin paper. This is more structured and perhaps a polar opposite to Fields. I think this might help me explore the unstretched/unprimed canvas creating painted tapestry, and introduce fabric considerations more.

Where I have been

Artistic journeys this period included visiting Domaine de Kerguehennec in Brittany for an exhibition of Anne-Eva Bergman, “l’Atelier d’Antibes 1973-1987”. Her focus was on abstract landscapes, drawing on her Norwegian upbringing. This proved insightful as I grew up with big skies and land all the way to the horizon with nary a building in sight. I liked “Vague baroque” for its surface treatment and restrained colour.


Bergman, “Vague baroque”, 1973

I read “Thinking Through Painting: reflexivity and agency beyond the canvas” (written a few years ago but I just came across it) which explores, inter alia, the view that painting is dead. Parts of the book are written in ‘that’ style that often leaves referents free-floating, but the authors did seem to understand that this obscurity was a problem, though that didn’t stop them from using jargon. That aside, though, two thoughts arise. Is Painting Dead made me think of Francis Fukuyama’s claim that history is dead, in light of the end of the cold war and the apparent success of liberal democracy. Given the events of today, it is hard to image what evidence would support that claim today. The same for painting as it feels to me like a dilettante-esque assertion said more for effect than the evidence base it can draw upon.. Isabelle Graw in her essay does offer a definition of painting as: “a form of production of signs that is experienced as highly personalised”. My view is that Merleau-Ponty’s work is more relevant here than the authors’ attachment to critical theory and all its baggage. This definition does at least put art into the cognitive experience of the maker and of the viewer. The notion of painting as quasi-persons may not withstand scrutiny: objects such as paintings seem autonomous because of agency and indeed meaning attributed to them either by the artist or the (informed?) viewer; they become autonomous from a social process where they become iconic and thus stand on their own. But not all “art” is Art.

The other thought had to do with the commentary, in an eschatological context of Tuymans’ Gaskamer. The point, in the context of this painting was of the impossibility of representing some things. Can this be true, I wondered? If something can be thought, it can be expressed (verbal, musical, visual). That one may not know how to do it is irrelevant. And that one may feel an impulse that representation is strictly not possible seems more about arbitrary limits (censorship, political correctness) than human cognition. At the time I was thinking about this, I saw the film Denial, the court case between David Irving, the author of books on the holocaust, and Penguin Books (Deborah Lipstadt the author). There is a scene in Auschwitz when the lead barrister for the defendant is walking around one of the collapsed gas chambers and is seen by the Lipstadt character as not suitably reverential. He makes the point that this is a crime scene; for the defendant it is something else. As art then, such representation depends on context which supplies the basis for meaning; despite what some may wish, all that is solid does not melt into air. In the end the precision of the legal case which demonstrated that Irving lied, is balanced against the defendant’s belief that the proper representation is through survivors’ stories which in the end says that depiction is possible and can arbitrary expression.