In a June meeting, to review my progress on the MRes, Professor Steve Dixon commented (after seeing some of my photographs) on the seductive nature of graffiti he had encountered in India. This term resurfaced after a talk at the Castlefield Gallery when Finbar Saunders, one of the artists participating in the exhibition ‘Real Painting’, explained that he didn’t use colour in his work much, because it was too seductive and that it stopped him dealing with more important matters. I asked him what was wrong with seduction, and what the more important matters he wanted to deal with are. Initially he seemed to find this difficult to answer, but we did have an extended conversation after leaving the gallery. I wonder how much of this mistrust of colour is due to a fear of being the work as being seen as decorative and therefore of it not being taken seriously.
I realised, in writing this, that the questioning of the seductiveness of artwork could be seen to be at odds with the advice from Nietzsche and Irigaray that I had read, in the book “On Not Knowing”, putting forward the need for a positive engagement with the senses. Since I feel that all of my painting does engage with the senses, both in producing and viewing the works, it does seem important to consider this aspect of my practice.
There is a contrast in my work between emptiness and fullness, in terms of restrained or vibrant colour. What about the prospects for joy in my current work? Would it be possible to produce a joyous painting based around my experiences of the area I live and work in?
In What Painting Is James Elkins (1999)[i] explores the connections in linking the materia prima of alchemy to the gloom, which often accompanies the potential starting point of a painting. This could be associated with heaviness (either in my use of black grounds, the materials in the canvas above or in the viscous water of the space under the bridge in Levenshulme) and Elkins (1999) links muted browns in academic art from the 17th to the twentieth century with mud and excrement and with the materia prima. He describes painters’ use of bright colours as often being linked to a dismissal and denial of the base nature of their material but counters this with claims that for Wassily Kandinsky the range of colours in a box of paints were a celebration of the potential for energy and life. Could these thoughts, alongside of my experience of the variety of colours associated with the ruins which I have engaged with gives me licence to explore a wider range of palettes?
In Death and Philosophy by Malpas J. and Solomon R.C. Routledge 1998 p89 “we should be wary of saying that death is opposed to life.” They continue to describe how Montaigne 86 from Essays 1:20 “Death is the condition of your creation, it is a part of you. . .” If the show in Castlefield generally took the painting as a substitute, or mirror for, the body, then my painting could be seen as a substitute for the area within which I live- and the ruination of aspects of the surfaces and structures – the decay of the material into debris, composts, sludges and slimes. Godfrey in the chapter on death and life p282 states that “we are mortal: we die but we live. The compensation for the inevitable decay of the flesh is the pleasure the flesh allows us. Mourning and celebration are intimately linked.” He describes carnivals and festivals as sources of excess and perversions., chaotic celebrations of the fleshy body. P305 “Carnival is where we mingle and conjoin with others.” Echoed by Heidigger’s comments on death p97 in Malpas and Solomon being linked to a “readiness for anxiety’ and ‘a giving up of the self’. It is interesting to note that in French an orgasm is described as ‘la petite mort’, so that April Gornik’s description of Matisse’s experiences in the South of France as “one big colour orgasm” and Raqib Shaw’s description of his own work as “. . . like a perpetual orgasm.” Are both a loss of self?
It is interesting to note that in the area around the border of Levenshulme the ruination of surfaces is accompanied by a nightly carnival-like quality which results in further ruination in the form of litter from street drinking. The painter Beatriz Milhazes (Godfrey p297) asks what a painting does, and concludes that it, “. . . should make you alive, alert, regenerated. Confirming that you occupy your own body, and that what you are seeing has a physiological connection to you in a primary sense. . . In my work I want to emphasise desire.”
It strikes me that desire is partly the issue at hand here: the word seduction could be replaced by desire, or pleasure, or beauty, or colour; attributes which can be seen to be ones which can be mistrusted. Are these desires partly a fear of the body and of the pleasure associated with it? If so why are they seen to be things to be fearful of? Does this pleasure lead to a lack of seriousness or is it possible that pleasure and desire are as important as more ‘serious’ issues? As David Batchelor notes in ‘Chromophobia’ these attributes of pleasure, desire, seduction and colour ones which were usually attached to women, homosexual men and to the exotic other of the orient. How much has all of this discussion contributed to the leaching out of colour from my work over the last few years?
The whole notion of death and festival is coalesced in the works on Bacchus by Cy Twombly in Tate Modern. Twombly has used cadmium red light acrylic pigment on a beige canvas. How did such an old man pull off such a series of monumental, energised works? The pulsing sweeping gestures and the links to blood and wine fulfill the theme of the Bachannal, and Nietzsche’s Dionysian turn. A celebration of life and violent death in one. I’m brought to recollect Twombly’s Apollo, and the gut wrenching sensation I experienced on looking at the painting because of the jaw dropping elegantly brutal handling of paint and pencil.
[i] Elkins, J. (1999) What Painting Is Routledge: London
[ii] Elkins, J. (1999) What Painting Is Routledge: London p1
[iii] Elkins, J. (1999) What Painting Is Routledge: London p2
Shaw p307 concludes with the notion that there are no limits, no boundaries, no labels- “pleasure for the sake of exploring pleasure alone.”- linkto Baroque, Mary Heilman, Twombly, de Kooning, Cecily Brown.
Death and carnival different factures?
Old age=ruin= space for play= second childishness
Make up on faces for carnival
Francis Bacon practising his paint strokes on his face
For deceased in the funeral home
(21.06.15 I wrote:
Her face blushing
(Like it never did before)
A forced smile
Stretched out cold
“Can’t see, can’t hear, can’t walk”
was never so true.)
Some of Nigel Cooke’s descriptions of different epochs of painting make me consider the Border Paintings exhibition in a revised light:
Measure Windows in the Bankley Project Space and the view from other windows? Concern for proportions from the Renaissance or Modernist periods as a way of appropriating aspects of others work.
The painted surfaces of sanded white impasto with gray brown dusty paint, black impasto with white emulsion impasto thin brushed over, black with white toilet paper dabbed then brown glazed over, blue/ pink thin stain then left to dry brush brown black over grey self levelling gel and matt medium onto a sanded surface. pink stains with green brown and blue black rubbed offset with fingers.
Importance of edges in stressing the material nature of the paintings- even when there are ‘images’ or hints of a more perspective based space.
Done in a space other than my own.
More complex compositions?
More varied surfaces
More varied colour
Flatness and illusion?
“Painting As Paradox is an exercise in synthesizing the research of eclectic practices of young emerging artists grappling with various legacies of painting. Their work reflects a continual gesturing towards tradition and a concurrent redefinition of painting in contemporary terms. Examining the tendencies of artists trying to reconcile the contradictions and taboos of painting to date, not to mention its alleged disappearance and resurgence, this exhibition investigates the measures taken to maintain the mediums relevance.”
In today’s supervisory meeting Myna mentioned paradox again, the paradox of attempting to create paintings of ruins, or ruination. Ultimately, I am actually doing something very different- if a ruin is something which is decaying or falling into disorder, then most of my paintings are not actually fulfilling this definition, since I am creating forms of order. There are some exceptions.
Sainsbury (1995) suggests that “paradoxes immediately provoke one into trying to solve them”. (i) He believes that they derive from premises and reasoning that seem reasonable, but that lead to unreasonable conclusions- often these are associated with crises of thought and hence with paradigm shifts. I sense that there is a possibility here for me to consider the difference between verbal and material, ‘painterly’ reasoning. The proposal, which I had worked out in written form, has begun to reach an interesting point where I sense a shift in my thinking. Today I began to find questions raised in the supervisory meeting more productive than statements.
Do the questions, and possible answers, lie in the works themselves, in me or in other’s ideas- or are they in a mixture of all these things?
Myna also asked what purpose my paintings are serving- other than they look a bit like the surface of the wall of the tunnel under a bridge, for example? I can’t answer this at the moment because it’s somewhat outside of my linguistic ability to express.
In a discussion with Myna Trustram she described that the presentation I had to give in June would be more intriguing if it showed the working process, conflicts and problems I had encountered.
Sainsbury, R.M. Paradoxes Cambridge University Press p1
Elkins What Painting Is