WHERE'S THE BIG IDEA - Canterbury Gallery Of Contemporary Art
15th Dec 2004 - 16th Jan 2005
Well to begin with, there wasn't one. These new works which have turned out to be paintings about 'painting', have come as something of a surprise to me.
While calligraphy and typography have always interested me as a designer, they have never surfaced in my paintings which until now have been largely figurative. These new works which all feature text, began life as anything but considered.
One day the ever generous and encouraging Martin Poppelwell, whose beautiful calligraphic works have been inspirational, gave me a stack of old shelving that was lying about his studio "You might like to paint on these? - Take as many as you want!" I grabbed ten.
For some time I had used a roll of brown paper as a backing sheet on my homemade drawing-board/easel, where I would clean my brush or test the paint consistency before making strokes on the canvas. These papers ended up splattered with a conglomeration of spontaneous, randomly placed, multi-coloured marks, which I liked the feel of and had consequently collected.
I began by gluing the random compositions onto the first stack of shelves and painted out the brown backgrounds ending up with a bunch of virtually undesigned abstract paintings, which I could never have made consciously.
These gorgeous planks lay about mumbling at me for a while until one day I heard someone trot out the old 'I may not know much about art' line, and I wrote on one of the boards making my first, already famous text painting - 'What I Like'. Pleased with this I followed the signs which seemed to be pointing me somewhere.
The first paintings were all about my fear and mistrust of the 'artworld'. One at first glance looked like it spelt Masterpiece, but on closer inspection said Nasty Piece of Work. Major Work became Major Worry and Work of Art - Work of Artifice etc. One slab, which looked like it said Impotent Work, actually spelt 'Important Work' - my first.
Ignoring 'arty boy' Poppelwell's warning about the dangers of writing on one's paintings - (he always had), I collected another stack of shelves and ploughed stubbornly ahead.
"For me the most important thing is the visual poetry. The words are essentially just marks, which don't have to make sense but must be beautiful - (like Japanese or Arabic texts, which always seem graphically exquisite to me however mundane the message they might actually contain). If the words I paint trigger some sort of emotional or mental connection in the viewer as 'English', well that's a bonus".
One night I collected the forty odd new panels and threw them all on the floor to look at en mass. As I laid them out they somehow began to fall into groups which made some kind of mad sense, and with a bit of encouragement started to create interesting new compositions depending upon the group and order they were stacked in. The 'artspeak' panels set together became 'Important Work?', a collection of corny jokes became 'Stupid Poem', a set of guilty confessions 'Lost Opportunity' and 'Poppycock' is simply a bunch of quotes from Poppelwell .
I continued with the knowledge that the boards were destined to become sets, so they inevitably ended up designed as such and painted together. These included 'Unfinished Business', 'Dead Horse', 'Failed Experiment', 'Painting Tips', 'Shapes to Avoid', 'Vacuous Rectangle', 'Never Mind The Bollocks' and 'Help me Stop'.
"On experiencing an 'artwork', you might feel any number of positives or negatives - you might for instance feel that it's an experiment that didn't quite work. If you take that idea as a beginning for a painting and call it 'Failed Experiment' and even make the actual painting a calligraphic interpretation of those words, it becomes a painting 'about' the idea of a failed experiment. It may also simply remain a failed experiment, or depending on how the artist uses the paint, become something else - even a successful and valid piece. Of course there is always the problem of where to put the paint - let alone what colour".
From 'What I like' to 'Help me Stop' - I had started with random marks, continued with random juxtaposition and ended up designing everything - what a mess! A collection of spontaneous thoughts, quotes, meaningless phrases and expressions of hopelessness had become absurd visual poems about failure, the art racket, frustration, fear, divorce and resignation, which hopefully make some kind of collective graphic epiphany.
To finish the collection I made 'None the Wiser #'s1,2,3,4 (if nothing else it's a big one), a four diptych work about the daily conundrums of trying to paint, and 'What Goes Around Comes Around', a response to Peter Robinson's McCahon homage 'Boy Am I Scared Eh', which by this stage, with the looming prospect of exposing four months of exorcised demons to the world, I related to very much.
Then followed the inevitable 'Big Question#1' which signposts the next potential step towards deconstructing the text. The final painting was 'Can't be Stuffed' - at which point I knew it was time to pack up the truck and head south.
FaneFlaws Dec 2004