Painting is like being on a see-saw except there is no one on the other side. You have to do that awkward, near-impossible thing of running from one end to the other in between the up-downs and somehow still enjoy the ride!
And the two sides – what are they? Well, actually it is a multi-dimensional see-saw, if you can imagine one, so many factors are there to balance. There are the universal twins that come with making images – complex-simple; loose-tight; flat-volumetric and a myriad more that constitute the language of art. In addition, each artist has his or her own particular and often peculiar concerns where they find themselves up or down or half way up in cycles of discovery and rediscovery over the years.
Here is the story of my ride – I prefer it to using that overused word ‘journey’. I have crept slowly via my last two exhibitions from the safe shallows of children’s book illustration (a genre in which I spent much of my working life) to return to my first love, fine art painting. And here, finally, there has been a radical increase of scale. Overhearing a chance comment at the opening of NOOSPHERIC NIGHTS about how small the works were in real life, was all the challenge I needed. Without really seeing it, I had been working in that cramped small scale of the printed page. Time to break free.
In the making, there were those ‘aha’ moments where I came to realise that what initially looked brand new was in fact very old ideas in a new form. I am re-meeting past friends, archetypes that have haunted me from my youth: vertical ladders and horizontal streams of strewn stuff. Now they emerge clothed with newish content – the eclectic objects I have been painting for a while now. Even the limited colour range in 2 ACRES AND A DONKEY has its antecedent in a small lost student work which reflected my attraction to the colour of American trash bags of the time.
My two great loves, Philip Guston and Giorgio Morandi, are thick-paint artists, yet I am increasingly accepting that I am more at home with thin paint. Here and there I can slap it on but my start in this late career spurt of art making, was in water colour and ink. Thin washes of ink and acrylic applied with a mop or a three-haired artist’s brush and everything in between is where I am at present. Slowly I venture into adding oil paint to the mix, impregnating my cloth with rabbit-skin glue to prevent the oil rotting the support.
I rock between euphoria and self-doubt, light and dark, thick and thin, refined and brutal, words and images, leading the painting and allowing it to lead me. An important aspect of my work is unifying drawing and painting. This is allied to the greatest conundrum facing a painter in the process of riding his or her painting home – when is the work finished? The paintings exhibited here are deliberately on the uncooked side – pink lamb, pasta al dente. They are a reaction to a memory I carry of art school where under the tutelage of our lecturers, fresh, spontaneous underpainting was covered in great slabs of coloured-in paint, inevitably killing off any love I had for the work in the process. I remember once tossing a still-life out of the 2nd floor studio window at Wits in a fit of disgust.
Does it sound like self-justification to link the lack of finish in these works to the fact that they are ultimately ideas –rather tenuous ideas at that – and not renditions of the real world? WE1, WE11 AND WE111 are self-portraits. They arise as a response to the gender lobbyists who would like to change the pronouns we use for them from ‘he’ or ‘she’ to the non-binary ’they’ or ‘we’. My riposte is that everybody is a ‘we’ rather than a ‘me’. 2 ACRES AND A DONKEY is also a type of self-portrait. It is a portrayal of the process of unimpeded thinking /dreaming and the dross and occasional insight that comes to us when we are in this flowing state.
Stream of consciousness? Perhaps. The 7 meters can translate into 2 acres but where is the donkey?