This is an attempt to explore in words not so much why do I paint but why do I paint as I do and at this particular time why am I painting in a much more abstract way? My interest over the past ten years or so has been predominantly figurative, concentrating on people, faces, figures, relationships, lots of self portraits, often with a kind of psychological / philosophical feel to them, or at least I think that was the intention. It started with a fixation on the American painter Edward Hopper and his many works that spoke of the strangeness of people and their place on the planet. The theatre that is the world I suppose. Then there was Henry Moore, Hepworth, and all those 1950s British painters including Keith Vaughan whose work clearly shows that development from figurative to abstract. Of current artists, the work of Hughie O’Donoghue has always been a great inspiration for me as well.
Three complex elements are at play when we look at paintings -
We have to ask the question -
If it is true that the “ocular” and the “perceptual” often come together in a work then I was tempted to think of Venn diagrams to represent this. However, my reluctance to follow this line of thinking is that Venn diagrams are systematic rather than systemic. They show a linear, deterministic view of the world where 2+2 always equals 4 but the complexity of the world's systems -
So to return to my initial question, why? I suppose the answer is I wanted to see what would happen if I focussed both on what was inside my head and at the same time be stimulated by what was in the external and complex world around me. I hoped to discover a different kind of "beauty", one not determined by external standards but one derived from an inner reality. A truth. That is why when i introduce geometric forms into my work they are never neat. They wobble and shake and deviate. It is how I think the world really is. Anchored but unpredictable.
Am I "painting" or am I doing something else? I ask myself this question because I am using a lot of different media in this recent work, so not just acrylic paint, but also stuff of the earth like ballast, sand, pumice, plaster, wood and so on. It feels right to do so.
At the risk of sounding "grandiose" (and it’s not my intention to sound grandiose), I have to say that I do not start with the work itself, I mean directly working on that surface. I first sit quietly and kind of soak in the silence around me. There is no overt planning, no drawing, no sketch books. This quiet, almost contemplation, helps the inner perceptions to come more into view, more to the surface. It's at that point when I might just get up and make some marks on that board or canvas. It's intuitive and I suppose spontaneous. I might work for ten minutes or half an hour then I sit down again and try to absorb and assimilate what I have just done. At this point I suppose I am both the creator and the viewer. The work is up on the easel, sitting there in its nakedness and I keep glancing at it to continue the conversation we have started, me and the board.
Whilst sitting I am often reading things which help me to contemplate -
As the work progresses in alternate contemplative/active phases I will sooner or later come to some kind of tentative conclusion. But I know better these days than to simply stash that away as “finished”. That work has to live with me and with the other works for some time, it might be days, weeks or months, but it will speak when it is ready and it often says "I am not done yet". Usually I know quite quickly what it needs. Where that impulse comes from I can't say but I have learned not to worry about it and just do it.
How far do the “old rules” kick in? Like rules about composition or about colour harmony and balance. They certainly don’t kick in in an overt or planned way and one of things I often feel driven to do is destroy a part of a work which threatens to become over decorative. I do a lot of reworking and layering, destroying and as Hughie O’Donoghue put it “excavating”. The purpose may be to provoke a different response. Artistic output should sometimes be a challenge and even an irritant and although there is nothing wrong with it soothing the savage breast, it can also have quite different purposes, don’t you think?