Notes to myself when painting – artbites so far

Artbites so far …
Notes to myself while painting … An attempt, inspired by Diebenkorn, to produce a handful of ‘artbites’ to help me find some sort of consistency as I veer from the human form to cityscapes

#1

Painting is drawing in paint

#2

Narrative painting is no longer painting’s natural home

#3

It is the studies, rather than the major works, that reveal everything

#4

Digital art is secondhand art

#5

Drawing is thinking, painting is making

#6

It’s all about tone

#7

Paint oils in layers

#8

Commission and expression can both be good parents of creativity

#9

Don’t learn from your mistakes

#10

Copying the unintended, becoming yourself

#11

If you draw from something enough times, you may see it as if for the first time

Notes:

#1

Painting is drawing in paint:
Since the ubiquity of photography, painting’s strength is the quality of paint – I no longer feel the need to search for anything that isn’t already in the drawing which I’m making a painting of. The ‘of’ is the key word.

#2

Narrative painting is no longer painting’s natural home.
Video, photography and creative use of social media are so much better at story-telling. The paint itself should be a dominant element of the subject-matter. Tapping  into the existential elements of being human, through our interaction with such a physical art-form, is what painting is still so good at. In addition, I would much rather look at Rembrandt’s portraits than his (or almost anyone’s) history paintings. There is a gaping hole now, between pure abstraction (not tense enough) and intellectually-driven conceptual art, which painting is perfectly shaped to fit.

#3

It is the studies, rather than the major works, that reveal everything.
I find myself increasingly making work from the slightest of sources. I think this is because in almost every case, we can find out so much more about an artist’s intentions (and worth) from the etchings, the drawings, the studies, the macquettes, than from the set pieces of even the great masters. The masterpieces which disprove this are so often raw themselves: To take two obvious cases, Goya’s The 3rd of May and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon let us in. Artists work so hard to disguise themselves, ignoring Nietzsche’s advice to ‘become yourself’. The truth often lies within sketchbooks, palettes and offhand comments.

#4

Digital art is secondhand art
The stuff of art, the charcoal, the dust, the mess is lost in digital work – somehow the control required of the artisan feels more valuable than the ability to create a work within the virtual envelope. The seductive tools on (say) an iPad, which in particular seems very close (at first glance) to the experience of using a sketchbook, offer so much range, but the artist is always choosing from the programmers’ extant decisions. These offerings of colour palette, filter or just the ability to cut/paste in ever more subtle and beautiful ways are fundamentally different from selecting an oil pastel, tube of paint or any physical medium to smear, mix or use to make artwork with – I think it is the light falling on the object (perhaps I’m alluding to Adorno’s truth-object in ellipsis), its weight and unpredictability, its ertness to moisture, heat or even accident ….
Digital art can patently be as moving, skilful, hard-won and improved by thousands of hours’ practice as the art of stuff, but nonetheless a set of skills seem to have been devolved to others.

The proof is that work made digitally becomes something else when extracted from the app it was created in. When an etching plate is printed, the image created is more complete in evoking the artist’s intentions, as every mark made on the plate only really exists within the print when inked and transferred.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that you can email a digital piece as a file an infinite number of times and that potential ubiquity makes the gesture, narrative and image available to all, but the artist has not been involved in the physical presentation of the piece – something has been lost, or perhaps more accurately a loss of ownership has been exposed.

#5

Drawing is thinking, painting is making.
The difficult part, drawing, is to do with finding an equivalent for the world I am trying to describe, or invent, while creating a set of instructions for the next (painted) piece of work. Then, I just have to try to find a way of using paint to create the described or invented world in its entirety. There is quite enough to do while dealing with the myriad complexities of paint without having to work anything out for the first time, so all the information I need must be present in the drawing(s).

#6

It’s all about tone
Get the tone right. There seem to be two ends to this – Picasso knew that, for all Cezanne’s use of ‘little sensations [of colour]’, he was always careful to make sure there was tonal clarity.

On the other hand, for maximum power of colour, nothing is as persuasive to the eye as equivalence of tone, viz Matisse ‘The Dance’.

#7

Paint oils in layers
Oil painting in layers makes sense. Maybe I look for this, because I’ve done so much printmaking, but richness of quality (old colour showing through, or even just the enhanced texture) seems to occur unfailingly when a new layer of oil paint is added to previous dry stages.

Honesty compels me to quote David Sylvester (on Bomberg):

“Layer upon layer seems to have got there with each layer preserving its own identity and virtue. The underlying layers somehow have as much presence as those which are visible. And the layers act upon one another exactly as visible areas of colour in different parts of a picture-surface act upon one another.”

I’ve also found that generously-applied gesso is a remarkable short-cut to this quality.

Also gesture over order seems to release a similar reward.

There is an additional conceptual direction available too. A multiple image works as well in paint as in photography or printmaking, with the advantage that the physicality of the often raised surface more than compensates for any blurring caused by more than one drawing stage – isn’t this how we see?

#8

Commission and expression can both be good parents of creativity
This became a little clearer to me after reading a recent comment by Robert Dickhoff, that:

Art made to order [doesn’t have] the same value as art made for love.
I replied:
Robert, I think the world is more nuanced than that. Art seems to me to be about overcoming the obstacles that first prevent its creation, then the details of design or process that limit its potential. Once the inevitable limitations (perhaps parameters is a better word in some instances) have been identified, then the work can begin to develop from an inevitably individual combination of each artist’s search for a personal truth, aspiration and commercial situation (if any).
I believe that a significant body of J S Bach’s sublime works were made under the duress of having to compose regularly for the choir of which he was master, under contract as it were.
Is a screenplay necessarily less complete as an artwork because it is commissioned, and further because it can only exist as part of a collaboration?
Dickens wrote many of his novels to order as serials in a newspaper, so was certainly writing to fulfil a quota.
Mention any significant painters’ significant works and the myriad of factors at play between creation and consumption are evident. I want to use Picasso and Velazquez, as Guernica and Las Meninas both hang in Madrid, are painted by Spanish painters commenting on the apparatus of a state at war and on the reporting of the actualities of war. Both these affecting and effective paintings are monumental, almost certainly the masterpieces of their makers and each would require a thesis to untangle the precise circumstances of their status on the scale between commission and personal outpouring of that mixture of skill, raw ability and political and commercial nous.

All art requires collaborations, at the very least between artist and viewer, to exist at all.

#9

Don’t learn from your mistakes
It’s much more important to work on each picture with intelligence and sensitivity but not too much knowledge or memories of experience.

Become yourself – the right way to do something is not going to look like your work.

#10

Copying the unintended, becoming yourself
To take those accidentals, the pentimenti and the slips, and study them, that’s the thing. Whether to reproduce them, laboriously, so that the end result is seemingly casually made, or whether to discard them.

#11

If you draw from something enough times, you may see it as if for the first time
T.S.Eliot says it (much) better …..
‘With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

 

We shall not cease from our exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.’

 

from Little Gidding, 1942

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s