In praise of…tinkering

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I recently commented upon the sad passing of Thomas Nozkowski.  I’d been resisting the monograph on him produced last year until now (not least as I have several catalogues of his) but this week took delivery of a copy.  If you are unfamiliar with his work you’ll not know of his regular practice of making over his canvas boards through erasure and re-painting.  In John Yau’s excellent essay he quotes the artist saying: “I don’t like tinkering. Whenever I go back to a painting, I try to open up the entire surface – you know, run a wash of colour over it, or I’ll scrape it down, or I’ll rub it off with a rag – so that everything is back in play.”

Now I love his work, and (I hope) in my modest way see him as something of ‘a fellow traveller’ in several respects…but not in the matter of ‘tinkering’…it’s something I absolutely love.  Indeed it goes to the heart of my dabbling!  Paintings can, and usually do, sit around for months, and even occasionally years, in order that small additions, adjustments or obliterations may take place.  It is also the case that, rather more rarely for me, the outcome can be ‘opening up’ the entire surface as well.  But it’s the tinkering that mostly takes centre stage and the very thing I celebrate.  And so it is with these three paintings all ‘in play’ since Easter but not significantly altered – as yet – from their early states…but still likely I think to some jolly tinkering!

 

Domesticity…

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Visiting friends is lovely but visiting friends who’ve bought work is even nicer!  And work takes on another life when seen in a different environment from either studio or gallery.  Especially when it’s a piece on paper exquisitely framed. So it is with Pan Tadeusz here in my pals, Moira & Allan, living room in Dorset.  Pan is one of the Waldgeschichten, the Forest Stories, part one of the three parts that make up Landscape & Memory.  This project is now finally coming to its conclusion, the fourteenth of the eighteen works making up third part Rock of Ages just now resolved to my satisfaction, and joining the other fifty with only four to go.  Given that the early stages of the whole scheme started back in 2014, it’s only been five years in gestation.  That might seem an inordinate amount of time but given my dithering and distraction I reckon half a decade ain’t too bad!

Stephens Climbing Account
Stephen’s Climbing Account, 106 x 93.6 cm., mixed media on paper,July 2019

 

Coping With Complexity…

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For the past few years I’ve been pushing at more complexity in my paintings…but its hard going.  I doff my proverbial to artists like Biggs & Collings or John Bunker (and quite a few others) who manage it.  For one thing of course one wants clarity in the complexity but its hard to achieve.  And this thought was brought back to the front of my mind this morning as news was passed onto me of the announcement of the Prime Minister’s resignation.  Amongst the many things that will be said about it in the media the complexity of it all will be pretty much passed over I imagine.  Partly because the ‘issue’ is completely polarised now and partly because that’s only how the media can cope with it – they hate complex and really only want to deal in binary choices, hence the endless parade of for and against commentators rather than – what they would see as boring and tedious – carefully considered and thus intelligent analysis weighing up all the issues on all sides.  And to be fair that’s probably what much of us want to see and hear, just a row between the right way (ours of course) and the wrong (anybody who isn’t squarely in line with our thoughts).  Anyway enough of that – back to the painting.  One thing that’s for sure in the painting the resolution of the complex is very multifaceted.  Besides the things one decides not to revise or revisit (for example the initial choice of support, though that can be fiddled with too) if form, colour, surface, media are all up for grabs then variances become trickier and trickier to deal with and, for me at least, the processes are exceedingly long winded and laborious.  Maybe that notion suggests that the politics too will be with us for a great deal longer…

Compare & Contrast & then?

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Because the year is still (just) under a sixth old I’m fairly relaxed about the progress of the various bodies of work underway.  Besides several are nearing completion to my satisfaction (and who else is there to consider!).  These two, roughly the same size, around  40 x 60 cm., are amongst them.  It offers an opportunity to compare and contrast.  There are obvious differences in origins and in materials and methods.  As for the latter the picture above is on board prepped with hard sandable gesso (Golden) and using a fair bit of various mediums added to the thin washes of pigments.  For the one below 12 oz. cotton duck has a lightly thinned plain gesso with a goodly variety of acrylics, including heavy body applied.  Mind this one also has a substantial number of thinned washes involved.  In terms of content and form the first is part of the on-going Very Like Jazz series where a certain looseness of approach and call and response is the primary process drawing upon fifties modernist art and design tropes; whilst the second is rooted in observations and intimations of my experiences on our recent Cornish adventures.  Is there anything else to be extracted from their quite separate personalities other than to underline my inability to stick to one plot line? I’m not at all sure!

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Enough Already…

As we start to whoosh through 2019 (I can’t quite believe we’re in February already) I realise that my way of making work makes for an uncomfortable feeling of dread…

The endless prevarications could see me shuffling off this mortal coil without completing some of my many projects unless I get my digit extracted!  For a while, 2 or 3 years back, I instigated a schedule for the year ahead to be sure of getting through work with some discipline, and it worked to a degree though inevitably crumbling a bit at the back end of each year.  

Enough is Definitely Enough poster

And then the unexpected comes up to further disrupt things.  Of course one can (and occasionally does) turn them aside.  But some are just too intriguing to disregard.  So it was with Enough is Definitely Enough another fascinating and compelling project from Andrew Bracey.

I’ll let him explain: 

Over 40 contemporary artists have made new artworks in response to a postcard version of Velázquez’s masterpiece, Las Meninas for an exhibition at General Practice in Lincoln. Enough is Definitely Enough’ which opens on 30 March and runs to 13 April, features a huge variety of different artistic responses to the Spanish painter’s masterpiece – arguably the most widely interpreted of all paintings.

Art Historian Daniel Arasse reflected many people’s view that everything, or perhaps even nothing, has been said about Las Meninas -“what’s the difference, enough is definitely enough!”. The artists in the exhibition build upon previous interpretations by renowned artists such as Pablo Picasso, Richard Hamilton, Francesco Goya and Eve Sussman. Artists have long been actively influenced by the centuries old painting by Velázquez; with their responses, in turn, offering influence back to Las Meninas to enable new readings. With the artworks made for Enough is Definitely Enough’ there is potential for new relationships with Velasquez’s original painting to open up.

The exhibition is curated by Andrew Bracey and forms part of his PhD research at the University of Lincoln. He is exploring how contemporary artists have used and appropriated existing paintings by other artists, through a position of using the metaphor of the parasite and symbiosis in connection with painting.

Whether or not my contribution is parasitical, symbiotic or just plain daft you’ll have to pop along to Lincoln to judge…

Made in Britain

And it isn’t just requests for contributions to projects that pop up.  As part of the Priseman-Seabrook Collection initiative another show of selected works including my own opens in the Polish city of Gdansk in mid March with the title of Made In Britain.  It seemed too good a opportunity not to visit for the opening, not least as Poland is a country I’ve never visited.  So its off to one of the seminal sites in the resistance to communist rule in Eastern Europe.

Ol’ rough cartography…

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It’s been a while…since I last posted one of the Rough Cartography series.  This is one of three OS maps that used to live on the walls of a department of the University of Sheffield.  I think one of my friends rescued them from the bin for me.  They were rolled up in one of the many cardboard tubes of stuff that is part of my ‘back end of 2018  tidy up’…and I’ve decided to give them a sprucing up and create a kind of Cornwall triptych.  Nearly (gawd help us) twenty years back I was asked to give a talk to our Foundation students about sketchbooks and took quite a few along to the session.  One of the questions was “why do you colour in so many maps”?  I couldn’t rightly say then…nor now really!

Knocked sideways…

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I’ve had quite a time of it recently…several bouts of mystery illness culminating in a nasty flu that still has something of a grip after a week…picked up ironically at our local A&E whilst I was waiting on a family member who was ill at the time!  Best to stay away from hospitals if you can it seems.  Today I’m feeling just a little more human, enough to review progress on the various projects I have on the go (regulars will know I keep far too many differing things in play than is sensible).  Here is the second batch of the L’Histoire De L’Eau pictures – part two of the Landscape & Memory trilogy based very loosely on Schama’s book.  Working with these is a curious process…whilst I have already chosen my eighteen texts some of the individual panels immediately suggest which one should accompany it but others much less so, to the point where some have to undergo drastic reworking to make them applicable.  And of course as each text is taken this gets harder so that eventually (at least with part one, Waldgeschitchen ) I am forced to write out each remaining one and shift them around the panels till I can make it work (or in one or two extreme cases replace them altogether).  I guess some might say – quite reasonably – this seems a cock-a-mamey way of going about things but its my way for better or worse.