My Rough Cartography series is such a long standing practice that it seems now just habitual. Wherever and whenever I’m somewhere away from home I pick up those freebie tourist maps and once back in the studio they are pasted into one of the sketch books. Over time…lots of it!…they are gradually painted in. Why I do it I’m not at all sure but the letter below maybe gives some kind of clue to it.
Dear old friend,
Today you would have reached pensionable age but, as things go, sadly you’re not here to celebrate. Later I will raise a silent glass for you. I remember back when we were still youngish men sitting and discussing making work, why we do it and what it means. You asked me about my peculiar habit of keeping scraps of maps in my sketchbooks and colouring them in…and us both laughing at my complete inability to explain any purpose behind it. Well I think I may be on my way to understanding now. Not bad eh, its only been thirty plus several years after all!
Its something (if I understand it properly) contained within an essay in the catalogue for Contemporary Masters From Britain – a show of 80 paintings touring China from the Priseman-Seabrook Collection. Dr. Judith Tucker suggests that painting retains a capacity to capture our attention precisely because of its materiality; its “sensuous, viscous quality” as she puts it. This is coupled in the essay with a notion of painting as “quasi-subject”; a site in which bodily experience of the artist in making the work is somehow a residue within this materiality. I think it may be at the very least something to do with these ideas that keep me, all these years later, fiddling with those damn maps.
I’m also dwelling on the good fortune that allows me to keep working and how, over time, opportunities present themselves through a myriad of circumstances. It’s in my mind because of the show just mentioned. Its been through recommendation (and I owe thanks to the talented Terry Greene for that) that I’m part of this exhibition. Other possibilities open up and suggest themselves too. I suspect that over the past decade or so you would have cemented your reputation not least because of the way in which your last works were opening up new avenues and directions. Amongst the many things I miss is the opportunity to have argued and wrestled with these ideas and outcomes that never happened.
With affection and remembrance,
More information on Paul Mason can be found on my blog on him here.
Contemporary Masters From Britain is available through Amazon. The show opens at the Yantai Art Museum on 7th July 2017 and runs till 3rd August before moving to Nanjing.
I’m wondering exactly what may be the unintended consequences of working from my mashups of the photos I take in preparation for my series Playground of the Midlands. Perhaps it should have occurred to me a lot earlier. After all I started playing around with photographic source imagery back in the 1990’s! But in all honesty I’d not really thought it through much until earlier in the week. Stepping back from one of the canvases the choices of elements were shockingly clear – yes – you could see what it was! Usually my mashing up, or colour choices or plain cackhandedness takes care of any original referent.
One of my many painting heroes is Thomas Nozkowski. I like his clearheaded and unfussy approach to the business of making a picture and the plain commonsense of much he says about it. He is rightly admired for his certainty that everything he does is grounded in real world experience. You get a really honest insight into his process from these videos made by his son – here’s the other – where he expands on the idea of how the work evolves. I guess one of my reasons for liking his work is my similar idea of how to construct a picture. In a 2015 catalogue he talks of his work becoming “more open ended. That’s to say initially I prided myself on sticking close to my original source material…but I’m much more interested in all the evocations and echoes and implications…so instead of a tight little knot, I think it’s now something that’s a bit more open for interpretation”. I’m wondering whether or not I may allow some movement in the other direction – or should I – as Thomas suggests – work harder at the taking out rather than the letting in?
So that’s one conundrum going around my head (where a gummed up ear is making it a rather lonely and frustrating place right now). Another that’s been bugging me for a while is the point of all this anyway. I mean doing what I’m doing right now…’social media’ that as David Byrne recently suggested may actually do as much harm as good. After all if there’s a point to painting it has to be in substantial part the engagement with the actual object. It’s not lost on me that both the bodies of work I’m particularly focused on right now have no obvious outlets in the real world – and that is equally frustrating too. Maybe the memo to self is to start searching for opportunities to get the work out there…though after I have resolved it all!
I can rarely, if ever, have vocal music on whilst working in the studio. More often than not I’m inclined to jazz. I know lots of you probably hate it but I like to think that jazz is a bit like abstract painting…as the great Dave Hickey once said “those who care about it know where to find it but no one else gives a shit…” But of course what makes it helpful is the central importance of melody played off against improvisation. That, for me at least, makes it powerfully resonant with the way I engage with the working process. “Oh enough of this arty bollocks” I hear several of you say. And as it happens today I’m rather agreeing with you.
A decent painting is, after all, just like a good tune…take, for example the CD that just dropped through the mailbox this morning. It came about from me sitting at the breakfast table one morning a few weeks back and suggesting we got up off our bums one Saturday evening and go and see a live bank again. We don’t do it often nowadays, some large venue experiences with ‘big’ acts having put us off. But this was different – a smallish room in the back streets of Derby city centre – but with a great acoustic and a warm vibe (as us old jazzers call it). The gig was Corrie Dick’s band and it was excellent. I guess you could call it a kind of fusion jazz…some poppy, folky and world music sounds into the contemporary jazz mix. Lovely. But something made me a little sad.
I’m a bit crusty now, and apart from my missus, a fella sitting just behind us and the terrific Corey Mwamba (now the “musical Director’ or some such of the marvellous Derby Jazz), the rest of the audience (forgive me folks!) were similarly on our way to ‘knockin on heaven’s door’. Nowt wrong with that of course – we deserve to be serenaded on our way I reckon. But where were the young people – aha! of course they were the band! Now this is surely a shite state of affairs (apols to Renton) that the younger generation aren’t getting out to see what other extremely gifted young people are making. Maybe its just Derby…but talking it over with my 28 year old son…it seems a lot of them just don’t go out to gigs much, preferring their web connected devices. If so, sad.
Anyway I bought the CD and it arrived today…not only that but with a handwritten note from Corrie. Well worth it and I’d say do the same and if they’re in your neck of the woods go check ‘em out live..
Whilst on the subject of music…two other recommendations.
Firstly I got followed here recently by musicophile. Goodness only knows why s/he was attracted to this place, when I discuss music its only ever “I don’t know much about it, but I know what I like’, but their blog is very rewarding.
As is Dave Whatt’s – its one of the few things that often makes me laugh out loud – but today I’m suggesting you dip into his Soundcloud account. It has its fair share of Dave’s wry and affectionate take on the human condition (that reminds me a bit of the legendary Derby trio of Kevin Coyne/Paul Warren/Ian Breakwell) but it is also really really good musical fun too. Damn these multi talented people I say!
So the net then. Good and bad really…just as always!
We are strange creatures really – motivation is just one of those things hard to explain a lot of the time. Today I acquired the timber to construct the remainder of the panels needed for the series but I’m just not finding the energy to engage with them…maybe tomorrow.