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Enclosures Series

The paintings are about myself, painting, and landscape.
20/09/18
Article text
They are about myself because they are expressive of moods and feelings. They are about painting because art is always partly about art. They are about landscape because they are derived from drawings, observation and knowledge of landscape.
Some drawings are made of great vistas and views, others of detail on rocks such as lichen or the way water swirls seaweed about. Other drawings are of the patterns of modern cultivation, the graffiti of agri-business, and there are drawings of historic landscapes where the record of earlier human activity is locked into the surface forms.
I also make drawings in the studio. For both types of drawings I use a chinese brush and black drawing ink. The drawings made outside are concerned with recording my obervation of a particular place or portion of a place. The drawings made in the studio come from memory and expression. This same dichotomy runs through the paintings. Some are based on particular drawings made outside, others start as a drawing on canvas based on the spirit of a place.
Knowledge of the landscape plays as great a
part as observation. For example in the area of Leicestershire where I live the remains of open field systems can be seen as ridge and furrow. Many of the paintings start from the idea of a field (Maes in Welsh). The painting becomes itself a great field which is overlain by other schemata. The great field becomes a whole landscape. Over the years symbols developed in the paintings. Some symbols relate to human activity involved in farming both past and present. Stooks, great round bales, polythene silage sacks, patterns made by machinery on soil and in crops. Other symbols relate to maps, and colour coding, and others to the way in which archaeologists record detail of vertical and horizontal surfaces at various levels on a dig. Aerial photographs also fascinate me, often a particular reality is only revealed from the air. Any painting could contain all of these elements.
All this and more is in my head, it excites me, and so I make invention with it. Not every mark or shape in one of my paintings can be interpreted as depicting something. Some do, some don’t, and some are ambiguous. The paintings start as a drawing done with a chinese brush, executed swiftly. They are then built up in layers of information and expression. Working in acrylic paint is an accumulative process. Every mark stays in the paint film. I work with bright colour, and a multiplicity of simple forms some of which are brush strokes. Without an appreciation of what they are about the paintings may at first sight look purely decorative, but they are fundamentally about landscape, not remembered in tranquility, but forged through a kind of manic joy, post-industrial icons for the land.

Alan McPherson
1991


Enclosures Series - Statement Two
What is the position of easel painting in the last decade of the twentieth century? Painting has clearly moved from centre stage. Other evolved forms address different areas, open up possibilities, and stake different terrritory. But all forms are in flux, are continually re-defined by artists. Fragmentation seems the only order. Yet the power of fashions and markets define their own familiar orders.
Many painters choose to work in a style (and in materials) lifted from one of the many strategies of modernism and try to continue it on its own terms, ultimately this leads to a faking of the antique. Some take a cool, knowing, post-modernist strategy. Others try to move on.
I make paintings on canvas/linen in acrylic paint with a brush. This medium marks a significant break with tradition. It is not Oil on Canvas. Acrylic has different properties and requires entirely different methods of working, it imposes different disciplines. Working in acrylic paint is an additive process. Once a brush stroke has dried in the paint film it is fixed. You cannot come back the next day, as with oil paint, and scrape it off. I like this discipline. Acrylic paint seems to me to be an appropriate material to use today. I work in Liquitex, an American brand of acrylic paint that provides clear information as to the precise hue and chroma values of the various paint formulations. This scientific approach I have found very useful as I work with highly saturated colour. I use a particular set of colours and colour mixes which include a nearly black and nearly white.
I work on a coloured ground, usually a venetian red, recently it has been nearly black. The additive process that fits with acrylic also fits with my method of working which is to make a first mark on this ground that will lead to the finished painting. This first mark may be just a brush stroke, or it may be a line either enclosing an area or dividing the whole area of the canvas. For many years I have worked in the traditional format of 4 units high to 5 wide. Some recent works have been in the ratio of 4 to 7 (landscape) and 5 to 4 (portrait). The ratio is the starting point, next comes the ground, followed by the first mark. The paintings grow from this first mark. Like the opening phrase of a fugue there is a way to go on, a formal way, an improvised way. The unexpected, the random inevitably happens because of the speed of application of some of the marks.
Acrylic paint lends itself to the oriental way of the brush, to the single stroke. To the repeated stroke that is never the same and yet the same. Dots are a short stroke as they always have direction. Flat areas also preserve the trace of their making. Inevitably, given the history of painting, a brush stroke is easily read as an expressionist gesture. Bright colour is also read as expressionist. Whilst there is some element of expression in the paintings I do not set out directly to convey particular moods or feelings. That is not the primary purpose, although it may be a secondary effect. The colour is uncompromising, insistent, impolite, if it were sound it would be very loud.
There is also a concern with line.
The line comes from drawing. Is there any point in making drawings? In one sense making a drawing is a technical exercise in line. Like practicing scales as a piano player, this inevitably involves mechanical dexterity, notions of skill, of practiced hand eye co-ordination, observation and knowledge. These developed skills are useful if you are making paintings on canvas with a brush. Does it matter what you draw? I usually draw details. I have made many drawings in landscapes, of geological formations, of detail on rocks such as lichen, of the sea coming in and out over rocks. I have also made many drawings from my head. The paintings inevitably come out of these drawings. Paintings from 1989-92 usually have a title relating to a place where either a drawing or an observation was made. Some of them also include symbols or pictograms. The drawings are all made in black ink with a chinese brush. I paint with a brush and so I also draw with a brush.
I am working on a series of paintings under the general title of Enclosures. An enclosure is a cultural sign, it can signal a particular economy, a way of life. All farmed landscapes are full of enclosures. A field is an enclosed parcel of land. It denotes ownership, exclusivity, power, control. Where the boundaries end the wilderness begins. But now the wild is on all sides bounded by the tame so the wild itself is an enclosure.
Continents are a form of natural enclosure riding on tectonic plates and crashing into each other to create folds, discontinuities, reversals and mountain chains. All subject to continuous erosion and re-making by sedimentary processes. Subject also to sudden upward thrusts of volcanic material, and then metamophosis by heat and pressure.
Theories are enclosures of the mind. Sets of beliefs and values have their own ring fences. Art objects do not exist in an independent enclosure of their own. Cultural enclosures exist. People like to feel comfortable and in step with their group. Such mental and social enclosures involving conformity to set values and beliefs seem universal. Artworks are made for each grouping.
Interpretation like any other investigation is a two way process, the subject of the interpretation affects the interpretation and is in turn affected by it. Ojectivity is relative. You only see what you know. I am concerned with language, with meaning, with symbols, signification, and interpretation.
How might an explanation go? You could regard the canvas as like a frame of an animation. Are those shapes about to get together or are they flying apart? You could try identification. Is it a sheep path or the trace of a sub-atomic particle? Is it a field or a tectonic plate? You could try another structure. Fugal development, inversion, being upside down, inside out going backwards and forwards at the same moment. Some of the following keys might work, aerial viewpoints, map making, using codes, private symbols. Or you might characterise a recurrent form as the ripple of ridge and furrow, or the flow of tectonic waves frozen in solid rock, or the movement of wind blown waves in water, or the trace of a theory that changes understanding? You might just laugh.
But the paintings are also a record of process. They are a record of a set of decisions, of gestures, of hand-eye movements. One meaning is in the language, in the record of the making of the paintings. 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 nature of interpretation and partly because it is set in an art context. But these paintings also carry their art context with them, they will not melt into any background, they are entirely artifical constructs.
Unpackable, explicable and also ambiguous; carelessly opaque structures, or artful dodgings? Are they merely decorative objects to contemplate from a good futon whilst falling asleep? You can only judge for yourself by seeing them, they are not easy works to reproduce.

Alan McPherson
March 1995