Monday, 10 October 2011

Like a Washing Machine With Angina

"Painting is an illusion, a piece of magic, so what you see is not what you see. I don't know what a painting is; who knows what sets off even the desire to paint? It might be things, thoughts, a memory, sensations, which have nothing to do directly with painting itself. They can come from anything and anywhere."  Philip Guston

At the studio.  Sitting here typing.  Periodically I look up and glare at the the recalcitrant painting on the wall in front of me.  Today, every move that I have made on that wretched surface, feels false.  A day of application and erasure.  Even though I know that these days are usually followed by a break through and that these difficult days are an intrinsic part of the process, it is a small comfort. 
I know that  uncertainty is part of the complex workings of  the artist’s temperament.  No half measures - a complete cretin one day and a genius the next.  We are volatile, self centered, highly sensitive and highly strung.  The senses and imagination get overused and we become overstimulated like young children fired up on cake at the birthday party.   Monumental highs and crashing come downs.
The creative process is not a straight forward one.  There is no exact recipe that can be followed to produce a consistent result.  Each artist comes with unique inner workings and personal history that creates their own individual approach.  For this reason, the variety of outcomes is limitless. 
My own version of this process seems to entail an endless amount of searching.  The seemingly indecisive technique that I employ, of applying (and scraping off) multiple layers of paint, is like an external echo of the questioning nature of my brain.  It often feels like I am more interested in the searching or questioning then the final result or answer.  It is a process of creating chaos and then finding a way of ordering it or making it comprehensible.  The final order may provide a sense of satisfaction but ultimately I seem to be more interested in the chaotic search and so, the dance begins again.
I am very interested in the ways that concept, process and judgement all intersect.  At times it is hard to decipher what came first.  
I can start a series with a strong (or faint) intention or idea.  Before too long, the process  (the actions, the materials, the techniques etc) can interject and suggest  some new possibility that I may never have thought up on my own.  When this occurs, an entire body of work can then travel on a whole new trajectory.  This is the sub conscious search and this is where it really starts to get interesting.  Here, the underlying motivations behind an intention can be revealed.
An idea or intention is only a starting point.  Resolution and conclusion always come later.  Sometimes much later, perhaps years after a series has been completed. Objectivity is only possible when looking back from a safe distance.  Somehow it is easier to understand the whole process in the context of comparison.  
After the first layers of paint have been applied, a painting seems to take on a life of it’s own.  The process becomes an exchange and is about much more than just me imposing my aesthetic judgements upon an inanimate white surface.  It is a hard thing to describe without sounding esoteric but to me it is a fact.  Paintings hold energy.  
At times I even talk to the painting or mumble things like:
“oh you think so do you?”
“ok...well maybe I’ll try that”  or
“stop being so damn stubborn you mongrel!”
This is why it is so crucial to stand back and look at the work after any new action is taken.  This is where the painting gets to have its say and suggest the next strategy.  Sometimes (like today) the painting goes mute and sulky.  Withholding it’s love, it leaves me to do all the work.  
The painting may as well be a mirror.  Its reflective surface reveals all the demons, angels, drunkards and fools that are some of the myriad parts of who I am.  It is a funny dance.  Sometimes it is fluid and graceful and at others, it moves “like a washing machine with angina.”  *

 I can’t imagine doing anything else.
* A wonderful line used by my friend Lachlan Brown when describing his five year old daughter at her first ballet class.

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