Thoughts on two wip paintings

I feel like I’ve been having a bit of a lag in the studio recently. I’ve been doing some travelling to visit friends these past few weekends and when I come back to the studio on Monday/Tuesday I’m excited to be in London, but I can’t necessarily find the energy to be really energetic and active in the studio. And since working in the studio is such a physical thing; painting outside is so bodily, so is stretching canvas, priming paintings, even cleaning brushes etc. it all feels like a lot.

So, it feels good to be sitting down now at my desk and writing this. Not moving around (!) not forcing myself to make, just reflecting on what I’ve been doing recently – something that I have neglected, it’s kind of slipped out of my habits. (If I want to pick and pull at all the things I’ve been doing wrong recently, I’ve also not been reading for studio research much).

I think the reason for this unsolicited period of not writing is due to my studio processes changing. I am in a new environment, with a very different commute, social hours, living situation. And in this new studio context I reach far more for my analogue sketchbook to write thoughts down, rather than my laptop to write on this blog. I spend more time thinking on trains, less time in the studio, so a notebook that I can easily pull out fits better. The problem with sketchbook thoughts, however, is that they remain short notes. For some reason I don’t fancy fleshing the idea out like I would if I was writing on here.

Anyway, regardless of how I’ve been writing thoughts down, I have been having some. And I feel like I’m super behind on reflecting on them! So this blog post is kind of a brain dump exercise in writing these things up. Here goes.

Firstly, this painting:

Lots of progress! This one’s had me excited about it for quite a while.

It’s a river scene. Based on some oil pastel sketches made in the place it’s based on, and also on sketches I did back in the studio to flesh out the composition.

The thing that’s interesting me about it at the moment is the lack of bodily expression in the painting. Every brushstroke is sterile. The painting is a conglomeration of sterile brushstrokes. What I mean by that is, each application of paint – divided by each period of time a mark was put down and left – is unconcerned with describing the bodily movements of the artist who put them there:

Aesthetics > bodily expression.

It’s interesting that I separated aestheticism and bodily expression to write the relationship above. In my older paintings, I would have said that these two work together, rather than compete. I am looking at this painting:

‘Wooded Lane’, 100 x 150cm, acrylic on canvas, 2021

The paint in this painting is a record and celebration of the moment of my body, especially my arm, in making it. The long big brushstrokes down the canvas remind the viewer the artist had to move a lot to put the paint down in this way. It is also evident that the paint has been put down quickly, and therefore without carefulness or inhibition, but with expression, of something.

This way of painting by nature creates an aesthetic. I make that statement by assuming every painting has an aesthetic, even if it is anti-aestheticism. And so for this painting:

Bodily expression = aesthetics.

Returning to the work in progress painting at hand, I cannot say that any record of the artist’s movement is completely missing from the painting. The light white-yellow shading along the top of the painting was put down with quick action and left unfussed, unblended. But this application of paint still came to be through considered aesthetic choice, because my aesthetic choice dictated the movement I made. So I was moving (when painting) under the intention of a pre-made aesthetic decision. Bodily movement because a tool for aesthetic purposes.

Another way to frame what I’m saying is that in the painting I am working on I am planning paint marks in advance. In the painting ‘Wooded Lane’ the movements I make unfold in present time. I let bodily movement happen spontaneously, I do not know what I will do in advance, and therefore the paint marks that are left on the canvas are a surprise to me too. Therefore the aesthetic of the finished canvas is unknown until I make the decision it is done. The way I painted ‘Wooded Lane’ seems to me a celebration of how life ever unfolds. The beauty of not knowing what your own body, your own self, is going to do, feel, experience next! – Something I have taken from Jane Bennet’s book ‘Vibrant Matter’. The painting process taken to create ‘Wooded Lane’ aligns with the unfolding nature of the world, everywhere, egh, the so of the place I am painting in.

So what on earth is the point in painting these planned paintings? Does aestheticism have to reign? Why should it? Is there an alternative with this form of memory painting of place I am doing?

I don’t know, yet. I bought this book recently, called ‘Documents of Contemporary Art: Memory’, it is an anthology of writings on the theme of memory, published by Whitechapel Gallery. I think reading this will prompt me to consider these questions.

Another painting I’m working on…

This is another painting from memory.

I’m using this plein air painting as reference:

‘The River from Blackfriars Bridge’, oil on canvas, 76 x 101cm, 2021.

Along with some other plein air and studio sketches.

The view in the painting is of the River Thames, looking from Blackfriars Bridge towards South Bank.

I don’t really know what I’m doing with it. It’s been quite a tricky process so far, it feels as if I’m pulling something out of it that I don’t quite yet know. Control and chance have been quite a struggle.

I am comparing the plein air reference painting with the wip (work in progress) now, and I have noticed how I have extended the view of the river in the wip. I mean I have added ideas of what I know to be around the bend in the river and on the other side of Waterloo Bridge (which is at the end of river in the plein air painting). I’ve sort of widened the vista and vast-ened (!) the view. Because my idea of what is there is wider than what I can see from the bridge. That’s a strange thing to say – that my brain can see more than my eyes can. Perhaps this is an assumption I have been making. I don’t think it is true. Perhaps there is an ignorance to my mind that it thinks it knows, and when if I go and look at the real thing, I realise it does not just what is in my memory, but a something far more collective.

I guess I experience, and remember/ can recall only one reality. Hmm. Ya know that Memory book I mentioned, I think it would help to read more about all of this.

Anyway, tangent over! There is a vastness to this painting.

I have been pulling things out – the things I want to represent – the important bits, and then I have been covering some bits up, skimming, generalising the bits that aren’t important. And this was originally a painting about the ‘guardians of the river’ – the trees. But my main concern recently with it has been to get the buildings and the water and the sky right. In fact everything but the trees! Perhaps it will become about the trees again. My plan with it is to add lines to the trees on the left (currently a plain green area).

In other words it seems the trees have kind of shrunk from the painting. Shrivelled. I don’t know what I’m going to do. Perhaps drawing would help?

The colour palette is an interesting thing to consider with this painting. Specifically, the way I’m using colour to denote objects/things along the river; I’m picking one colour for the whole object, and lightening or darkening that colour to define the shape. Here are some close ups as examples:

The effect when looking at the whole picture is kind of play-school-esque! It feels playful. It individualises each object. As if it has its own mood, personality, distinct from what’s around it. And that is how I feel about these buildings – they are the ambition and idea of an architect, they hold the anxiety, hopes, dreams, ambition of a human, and so they have their own character. And each building/object has been developed by a different human, in a different time, so they are separate from one another in these ways. As the colour palette is simplifying, which I feel it is doing as I am focusing energy on what is already on the canvas (??), it feels like it is unifying as a painting a little. There are however still lots of open-ended questions about parts of the painting which are crying out to be resolved. I’m just not quite sure how yet.

I have also had thoughts about extending the painting. Which, I write in a fast flurry because I’m excited about what I want to write down: I could do!! Because instead of stretching the frame at the end, I could mount the separate bits of canvas onto a wooded board instead. YEH?! Because I was thinking, oh well I can’t extend it because then I couldn’t stretch it. Well yes I could if I mounted it! I’m thinking (artist) Joe Packer here. Yes that would work. The question is wether I would like to extend it. I’ll have a think, I have done a sketch. I could try! Because there’s no pressure, if it goes wrong, so what? I just get rid of it again. HUH okay. I think I know what I’m doing tomorrow maybe!

You know, it feels wonderful to write about my practice again. I think I have been missing that. This is a love I forgot I had! I have come to some exciting viewpoints and ideas and decisions from writing this all down. This process of writing grounds my practice. I can feel my work grounding itself as I write this. And that’s a wonderful feeling.

I think I’ll end it here. There are other posts I can do on other topics, but this is long enough for now.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s