The Turps Diaries: September 2017

NOTE: This is the final review period so this journal entry was the last.

Where I have been

I’ve be doing the usual reading and looking; Ellen Pearlman’s Nothing and Everything is very much where I sit in my own world view and has led to helpful reflection.

I had some pieces in an art exhibition, Elemental, in the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station with Ashford Visual Artists. EDF, the owner, was really helpful in setting us up in a novel environment for an art show. I showed three pieces, two were abstract landscapes, and the other was an interpretation of quantum energy states (an interesting tension between modern science, and some very old thinking about the nature of the real world). I got to meet the mayors of the Cinque Ports, which has great historical resonance in this part of the country. Dungeness itself is a desert and I find it hugely stimulating.

Concluding comments

  1. I need to let paintings have space to breathe on the surface and not try to fill the available space. Review 4 explored this but not particularly successfully as my objective to develop free floating images did not address exploration of colour choices sufficiently as the critique noted. I have, though, revisited the pieces done in Review 4 and ‘refined’ the colour treatment. No piece is included here.
  2. I am reassured that glazing, working wet and mixing on the surface are effective approaches. I have done a lot of paintings where this layering of paint is the primary approach to colour formation, to elicit various emotional and visual reactions. I sent a response to your 4th critique on my use of glazing to produce layered colour fields. Untitled mediaeval geometric in this review illustrates this with a motif (appropriated?) from illuminated manuscripts.
  3. I am slowly becoming more comfortable bridging my work in Sumi-e to (monochromatic) abstraction, and transitioning from Japanese papers to other surfaces. I’ve started exploring this approach by looking at some of my photographs (I used to do a lot of abstract photography with leaky cameras and broken lenses), which yield an ambiguous visual treatment. See Untitled Abstracted Landscape for this review.
  4. My experience in France seeing the work of Anne-Eva Bergman is still working through in my mind as she abstracted from the landscape. I have continuing challenges deciding whether to work introspectively (noumenon?), or use landscape (more widely, the visual fields we see), in a way that is cognitively challenging and interesting. This is also a feature of Untitled Abstracted Landscape.
  5. The piece I chose from the 1st Review is Fire and Ice. This was the first piece I worked the paint with plastering tools and was a watershed is some respects. This led to me working more often on wood panels and produced the pieces  such as Emergent, which got confused with Richter… and again the comment on colour choices; that review also included the free-floating (Field) pieces. It sits in contrast to the work submitted for this final review.

Parting Shot: why keep painting?

I have found the commentary and thought processes helped me locate myself within the act of painting, so it is natural now to take stock and reflect.

I had some difficulty with the suggestion arising from the 2nd Review about dimensionality, which led to an experimental piece for the 3rd Review (Shades of Blue). While you liked this, I am unconvinced this is a direction that unpacks my own reasons why I paint.

I’m asking here “what is a painting”, (perhaps more in the spirit of the critics, “is painting dead”). I would distinguish such claims of demise from the behaviour of the art market (which is defined by curated taste), and perhaps what comes out of art schools (in the main, failing institutions as I’ve written about).

Clement Greenberg (why is he so vilified?) described some art as polyphonic (a music term) and monotonous. His easel crisis of 70 years ago is/was likely real; today, would much art be called “polyphonic randomness” (or algorithmic polyphony, or “noise”). But I think this is to conflate “art making” with “mark making” and associated tools and techniques – a bit like confusing a writer’s manuscript with their handwriting style. This would reduce artists to “technique-istas”. If this is what is meant by “zombie formalism” [ZF] then Michael Findlay’s The Value of Art is the travel guide that unpacks the art market as an invisible spasming hand (rather than Adam Smith’s invisible hand). How do I avoid going down the ZF rabbit hole, though?

Alva Noë proposes that art is an experimental and organising approach to constructing meaning and which positions art within human cognition; this jives with views in Thinking Through Painting, which takes abstract art as quasi-persons. I think these views say that art cannot be meaningful if it is solipsistic (by definition) and self-indulgent, a helpful distinction to remind artists to have something to say. For me, painting is a cognitive act of creation rather than a performative act. But the zombie stuff has me worried.