Sometimes images just beg to be the beginnings of a painting and this conjunction of the fragment of the Magdelene set into the wall with the shelf and plate above at the Church of St. Basil in the tiny hamlet of Toller Fratrum in Dorset is certainly one such for me. Of course the final painting may turn out nowt like its origins as plainly explained by the sadly departed Thomas Nozkowski in this interview. And yes before you ask we have been gallivanting again…courtesy of our pals Allan & Moira…to the Jurassic Coast, a favourite nowadays. We were following in the footsteps of John Piper, as eloquently explained in Alexandra Harris’ book Romantic Moderns, an artist I’ve come to admire more and more as I get older.
The trips away more often than not galvanise me into action on my return and on this occasion it got me moving on a resolution of yet another of my box sets. I’d quite some time ago prepped another set – one to sit between the Baby Geos and the Festive Geos as regards their size. But until today I’d not found either a title for them or indeed completed any to my satisfaction. Now hooray I have six made – and the Pocket Geos are ready to go! They are just the thing for fiddling with at the kitchen table under the daylight lamp in the early hours through winter.
A complete volte face…back to my Playground of the Midlands series…and the lay off means having to put a very different ‘head’ on. Back to working off of specific visual sources (that is referencing images crudely constructed from photos take on site). Working to resolve them whilst readjusting to using oils and as Thomas Nozkowski used to say keeping them open “so that everything is back in play”.
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!
I only just learnt of the death of Lawrence Carroll, some two weeks after the event. Following on from Thomas Nozkowski, whose fame in the world of art was greater I suppose, its very sad. Carroll I first came across back in 1992 on a visit to Documenta 9. In a single room I saw my first ‘ribbon’ Marden‘s in the flesh, ditto my first Jonathan Lasker‘s and my first sighting at all of Olav Christopher Jenssen. It was for any painter quite a sight and I was there for a long while.
Documenta 9 was quite heavily criticised at the time. Belgian curator Jan Hoet was a bit of an outsider, very pugnacious and quite opinionated it seems. I imagine he didn’t take prisoners. Besides which he used the opportunity to promote fellow countrymen (and most of those he selected from wherever were men) including now well-known Luc Tuymans, Thierry De Cordier, Raoul De Keyser and Jan Fabre as well as others less so, Michel Francois, for example. As an aside I’ve no problem with this – Hoet had an opportunity to showcase talent from Belgium on the wider stage and grasped it, putting someone like De Keyser into an arena one suspects he’d otherwise never have been recognised in.
He also had a ‘thing’ for the obdurate, insistent, gestalt object. Besides Carroll’s lumbering wall objects several other painters and sculptors could be grouped together. Michael Biberstein‘s canvas, Helmut Dorner‘s groupings of paintings and Anish Kapoor‘s Descent Into Limbo were just some of the pieces that made up a strong showing for ‘blank’ perhaps best exemplified by the inclusion of the grey paintings of Gerhard Richter.
But the Carroll’s have lived with me for many years now and although I have moved far from the idea of the ‘gestalt’ in my work I recall them fondly. His obituary by David Carrier tells of his life in Italy and also of his continuing career, mostly across Europe, rather than here or in the States. Sad to see him gone.
or a series of such…Rock of Ages – the third and final part of the Landscape & Memory project. This one Savoy by Walpole is probably nearer the first part of the whole work, the Waldgeschichten part than most of the other seventeen (each of the three parts comprise 18 individual works).
At least for the moment as this one is only the fourth to be completed in this last group. Some kind of fundamental underpinning to what one does seems all the more important as the external world gets crazier by the day and appears to be spiralling towards nasty intolerance, authoritarianism and worse. On top of the rest of it came news today of the passing of Thomas Nozkowski – a painter for whom I have had immense fondness for over twenty five years. It’s nigh on impossible to figure out how to respond to these things for the best.
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!