It is easy to say painting is dead. Yes, bits of it are, some games, some moves, are played out. From being the central medium for the visual arts painting has now become one among the many strategies currently used by visual artists.
I am concerned with making paintings that have reference without depiction. To make paintings that have meaning beyond their status as objects. This is very close to the way in which the arranged ready-mades or constructs of the art of installed context works. The object cluster is a sign for a wider meaning. So the painting as object, as a grouping of brushed strokes of colours on a ground, can work in the same way.
Painting as process.
I work in acrylic paint. This is a quite distinct medium to oils and one that I consider to be appropriate to the late twentieth century. To begin with it has only a short history, it was developed as an artist’s medium in my lifetime. It is not the medium of the great paintings of the past, they could not have have been done in acrylic. This is a paint based on a perfectly clear glue that dries very fast. I work with the possibilities of the material. This means I cannot change my mind after a few hours and scrape off a section of the paint and then re-work the area. With acrylic paint every mark stays in the paint film, it lends itself to painting in layers, the process is accumulative. My first stage in this process is to coat the primed white support with a layer of black acrylic paint. On canvas supports fixed to a stretcher this base layer continues round the sides which are deeper than standard stretchers. This totally black painting is next modified by a coat of cobalt blue, which being slightly translucent, allows the black to show through. The next stage is to make interventions on this ground in different colours. Many of the interventions are single brush strokes. In some places the layers build up, in others the cobalt ground is untouched. Some new moves can lead to the total or partial obliteration of earlier layers. Sometimes the overlay involves depth; some areas are detailed, organised, sophisticated, whilst other areas are raw, damaged, dysfunctional. Generally large brushes are used at the start, and progressively smaller ones as the moves develop. The process ceases when I can no longer see a further move that I choose to make.
Paintings as communication
From the above description of the process employed in making the paintings is is clear there is a set of rules, a programme is being followed, a kind of game that makes it possible to read some of the archaeology of the painting. As the process of making a painting is in one sense a kind of performance it can of course fail. Making paintings is an obsession, it becomes art when this obsession is shared with others. So how do they have any meaning for a viewer?
One meaning is in the language, in the record of the making of the paintings, a record of a set of decisions, of colour selections, of hand-eye movements. A paintings is after all in a physical sense nothing more than the record of its making, yet you cannot look at it without seeing more. Partly because of the context signalling ‘this is an artwork’, and partly because of the nature of interpretation.
One interpretation that can give these paintings meaning is that they are paintings about land and nature, both as seen and understood in a variety of ways. The oil-seed rape zip of spring, pond life, the ripple of ridge and furrow, geological structures, fossil worms, seaweed, alteration, decay, reflection, and of course that human fossil record which is the art of painting! The references are wide open, as complex and multi-layered as anybody’s experience and memory, there is no neat label for the specimen box.