At the last supervisory meeting, in May, Tim Edensor suggested allowing human and non-human agencies to create paintings. I had already begun to take up this idea in earnest the month before, as I had left canvases outside.
About five years ago I dyed several length of canvas with pink, blue and orange dye; then attempted to work on the unstretched fabric using stains of acrylic paint. As usual I wasn’t quite sure why I was doing this. In April I started to think about how I could engage with processes of ruination. Processes that lead to disorder. On reflection, I suppose that I wanted to produce work that would approach some of my experiences of disorder that I’d observed in the street around my home. In my previous work I have always tried to produce a pleasing surface quality and I was searching for a means to approach more of an abject quality that matched some of the ugliness of materials left to disintegrate.
The painting above was left out in one of the gardens opposite my house for six weeks. It lay under the old apple tree, crumpled, on top of a plastic garden table that was stained by algae growth. The spring rain watered the canvas, and puddled in the hollows; sun bleached the centre of the fabric, but not the outer edge. Just before removing the canvas I rubbed the back hard into the algae-spotted surface and the surface of the painting picked up a trace of my gesture.
I am ambivalent about the end results. I have previously found the square format problematic, from a compositional point of view, because it can be hard to achieve anything other than a symmetrical composition: the gestural component in Untitled (Garden: Pink and Green) is generally located on the left leading to a sense of imbalance. I am satisfied by the dyed pink aspects of the painting, but find the green algae marks less so, primarily because of the ‘dead’ quality of the pigment. I imagine that this lifeless quality will only become more apparent as time continues. In many ways the painting has begun to engage more fully with the processes which I have been reading about in relation to New Materialism, and Ruins, but I find this less satisfying visually than my existing work made from paint. I suppose that in many ways this could explain the historical reason for using paint, once it had been invented. Paint is very fluid and is mobile and is very open to manipulation. Also, because I have been painting seriously since my early twenties I have built up a level of skill in fostering the visual vitality of paint. I might not usually start from a position of intentionality but this emerges over time. Because the co-authored works above and below incorporate chance processes without my ability to privilege them in a stochastic fashion I have had much less ‘say’ in their construction. I could see that if I addressed the format and produced large quantities of these, for later editing and selection, then I could amass an interesting body of work. However, the works strike me as somewhat impersonal, more in the manner of my Found series than my previous paintings. There are also links to Julian Schnabel’s painting below in that the printed quality to the fabric was achieved by applying pressure- but in his case using oil paint on a giant tarpaulin.
Untitled (Yard Matter), the image below, stemmed from an initial act of using a spare piece of canvas to mop up the moss and algae that had formed on the yorkstone paving in my own backyard. In itself, this stained green canvas was of interest to me. Throughout April I was spraymounting work into sketchbooks and absentmindedly used this cloth as a sheet to catch the over-sprayed glue. Over the course of two weeks the adhesive built up in various ways on the fabric: a sticky glossy smooth surface which was transparent, a dry dusting that was opaque and white and a series of raised passages of encrustations. I don’t understand why these various effects had happened but welcomed them for their homogeneity. I left the canvas outside to dry off for about a month and actually forgot about its presence behind my wife’s plant pots and bags of compost. I employed someone to paint the stone sills and weatherboards on our house and he scraped off old black and white paint flakes, some of which landed on to the glue. Soil became lodged in the crevices. Snails laid eggs. Shells cracked. Seeds were caught. In May I remembered the canvas and brought it out from the space in the yard. I decided to stretch the canvas and as I was progressing it felt right to stretch it ‘badly’. I allowed the edges of the fabric to flap away from the stretcher and there were loose threads hanging down.
After producing the Untitled (Blue-Grey) painting, which seemed to have connections to the bridge on the Crescent in Levenshulme, I produced this work. First, I coated a large sheet of perspex I’d removed from Timber and Tools with a mix sap green, payne’s grey, a dab of mars black acrylic and matt impasto medium thinned with water. I then followed the previous process I had used before with the red paintings from April and printed onto several sheets; leaving some of them stacked on top of each other to dry off. The paper has a slightly waxy finish which exaggerates the break up of the paint film, created after mixing it with the ultra matt medium and creating a foam by repeatedly pushing the brush onto the paper. This approximates the processes I have seen at work in local car washes where traffic film remover, a form of detergent, is used to remove the residue of grimy pollution from vehicles. This creates a similar broken set of particles on the side of cars. The broken nature of the varied strokes allowed the previous incidental marks and ‘mossy’ printed marks to show through. I left the sheets drying on the floor after adding the foamy brushstokes and had lifted some of the paper surface off with my bare feet. I used some of the greyish green paint in an unfoamed state to touch up the bare white of the paper and this appears as a kind of greyish set of cloud forms two thirds of the way up on the left hand side of the image.
Untitled (Black, Grey and White) is an example of an partially erased flat monochrome. I used a 5 inch paint scraper to remove the top layer of semi dried impasto mars black and through the very slightly grey white beneath it to reveal another monochrome underneath that. This has led to a final set of near-indeterminate marks that I had very little control over and which match some of the paintings I produced in 2014 such as Yard from 2014. I feel that there is a slightly abject beauty in the above painting that matches some of the sites of ruinous disorder that I encountered before starting this project.
In summary, I have found various levels of physical and emotional engagement with the paintings discussed here. Overall I’m more attracted to the paintings produced in my studio, rather than those left outside to engage in more genuine authorship by other human agents and natural processes. Why would this be? It strikes me that the larger quantities of work which I have lead to more possibility of successes emerging. Further there are more temporalities present in the studio paintings because of my habit of working on canvases over the course of years (even if the only evidence of this palimpsest is in the surface qualities).