Hay Festival Digital Article of Interest No.6
A friend of mine who’s also a painter said recently she thought my studio was like one of my paintings. Initially, I wasn’t sure what she meant but, on reflection, I see it exactly. It’s to do with the floor, which has 25 years’ worth of paint on it: a testimony to some triumphs, but probably more disasters than one would like to remember. I find making paintings is not always a comfortable experience, and the struggles are deeply engrained in this floor.
My larger paintings begin with the canvas on the floor. In the first part of the process, paint is dragged and poured across the surface. This is left to dry for at least a couple of days, but not before I’ll have been up a rickety old 10-foot ladder to assess what’s already happening or not happening.
Arriving back at the studio, there is a mixture of trepidation and excitement. There is the anticipation of what the painting will now look like and, subsequently, how to respond to it.
However, seeing it propped up against the wall, you can really feel its physical presence; it becomes an object. Walking around it, you get a greater sense of what’s important about it, observing the facture, and noting how the paint has fallen around the edges.
Colour certainly works in mysterious ways and I am constantly surprised by how the paintings turn out. I’m reminded of Helen Frankenthaler’s response in an interview … How did she make the colour work in her paintings? She said she had no idea. I can completely relate to this – you can put something together confidently, thinking it’s going to work, and it just doesn’t. Occasionally it will but, on the whole, it is a slow, painstaking operation that can take weeks or months to eventually arrive at its conclusion.
I’ve used just about the same palette for years, occasionally throwing in a colour I dislike, just to put a spanner in the works. One of my painting tutors suggested this many years ago and it really stuck with me. Often the best work is made with a limited amount of materials: when you discover that tin of paint you forgot you had, or run out of your favourite colour. Adding one that you would never have considered using is even better. Somehow, you can make it work. The medium itself – paint- can give you something entirely unexpected and far better than you had ever intended.
I believe I’ve always worked within the formalist tradition, the content being just what is there in front of you. In some recent, small works though, I keep seeing farm animals. I find this rather comical as they have absolutely nothing to do with the way the paintings have been made. In one there is a turkey, furiously running towards the edge of the painting. (The title will have to be: “The great escape.”) I suppose it’s like spotting faces in the clouds; there will always be associations and echoes of things seen in the visible world. And the studio floor is full of them!
Work in progress 2020
POV ON PAPER in association with and supporting the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts 2020