Interventions Series - 1

Painting as a marginal activity
The first question to address is whether or not it is legitimate to be making easel paintings at all in the last decade of the twentieth century. From being the central medium for the visual arts at the high point of Modernism painting has now become in our pluralistic Post-Modern era a marginalised activity, the most problematic of all the strategies available. Possibly the most difficult of the available balancing acts. It is so easy to slip off the razor’s edge and make antique slices of a regurgitated past style, to make art that merely ‘looks like’ other art. One common strategy is knowing distanced quotation, of ransacking other stylistic moves and collaging them together in an ironic detatched way. I am interested in a different and yet related game of trying to make paintings that have reference without depiction. To make paintings that can be read as I intend them to be read. For myself balancing on the edge is also about being on the margins as an outsider, as a maker from outside the artschool educated artworld. I am also an outsider in that I have made my living by being multi-skilled as a self-employed survivor who buys time to paint. When just about everything seems to have been done the sane approach might be to stop, to do something else, to not start again. But like one of Samuel Becket’s characters for whom the road goes on, so one must also go on along that road, even if the road is only a memory, or perhaps because it is only a memory.

Painting as process.
The first stage in the process is to coat the support with an opaque layer of black acrylic paint using a brush. On canvas supports fixed to a stretcher this base layer continues round the sides. The starting point is a totally black canvas. On recent canvases I have made some preliminary interventions in white paint on the black. The next coat of paint is a cobalt blue, also applied with a brush, which being slightly translucent allows the black to show through where the blue brush stoke was thin. It also allows any white interventions to show through. The next stage in the process is to make interventions on this ground, hence the series title is ‘Interventions - Cobalt Ground ’. The interventions are all made with a brush in acrylic paint. Acryclic paint lends itself to an additive process. Many of the interventions are single brush strokes, some larger areas being an accumlulation of a series of brush strokes. Generally I work with large brushes at the start and progressively reduce the size of brush as the painting activity continues. The brushes used are mainly flats, one-strokes and wrigglers. The acrylic paint is Liquitex. The supports are mainly 15oz cotton duck, a few are linen and some are paper.

Paintings as communication
From the above description of the process employed in making the paintings is is clear that there are a set of rules, a sort of programme being followed, a kind of game. It is possible the read the archaeology of the painting. For example if there is an area of red that is clearly on top of the blue ground and the blue can be seen to be over the black, and if the red area in turn is overlaid by smaller brushmarks then a hierarchy of ordering is apparent. There is no artifice in how it has been made. There may be doubt as to why it has been made.

Alan McPherson

July 1997