An Essay: These things in relation to me, a Painter.

As a painter I am always looking around and finding inspiration.  Reading about artists, going to exhibitions and talks about art.  Inventing stories about my work.

I like to read – although I haven’t read a book from beginning to end for a very long time, so its all fragmentary reading.  (P9 Marlene Dumas in conversation with Barbara Bloom Phaidon 2000)

To write is different.  Why is it so hard to sit down and write a few words?  Partly because I know my knowledge is flawed, partly because my ideas about my paintings are embarrassing, incoherent and often forgotten.

I paint because I am a dirty woman.  (Painting is a messy business.)
It cannot ever be a pure conceptual medium.  The more ‘conceptual’ or cleaner the art, the more the head can be separated from the body, and the more the labour can be done by others
(P126 Marlene Dumas (originally published in Parkett 1993) Phaidon 2000)

I immerse myself in art books and magazines searching for words to validate my feelings and to find clues to inspire me.  (I have traveled by car and by boat with a boot full of my favourite books to find the space I need).  I want to communicate something about my taste in art, which may in turn give an insight into my current paintings.

The relationship between art and writing is an uncomfortable one.

 “All great art is ‘go by your gut and work it out later’,” she says, reclining on the back seat of the taxi. “If you think about things too hard it never works out.” (P402 Bronyn Cosgrave meets Rachel Feinstein Vogue Sept 02)

Libraries and book shops are an important source of visual information for me as an artist working in Hastings.  My dialogue (in my head) is with a multitude of images from art, fashion, interior design magazines, exhibition catalogues and of course film and television.

My whole history of art came out of books.  It was, like, inherited information, information gathered from pages in books.  My whole idea of art, and everybody’s idea of art, is the world you grow up in.  Then there’s the big media thing attached to it.  (P71 On the Way to Work Damien Hirst Gordon Burn Faber & Faber 01)

It is important to me to involve myself with current art debates, but I am also interested in my love/hate relationship with Hastings.

I paint because I am a country girl.
(Clever, talented, big-city girls don’t paint.)…  (P126 Marlene Dumas (originally published in Parkett 1993) Phaidon 2000)

There is currently an exhibition by Kjell Torriset at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill.  He lives and works in St. Leonards.  The exhibition consists of a large series of small paintings on mdf that dazzle the eye.  In the ‘full colour, illustrated coffee-table book’ published for the exhibition, Sue Hubbard focuses on the poetic and critical importance of Hastings;

Sitting in an old fashioned Italian restaurant in the middle of Hastings on a damp January Sunday watching the traffic purr round the roundabout against a backdrop of faded sea-side hotels and a livid mackerel sky like something out of a Nolde painting.  (p19 Sue Hubbard, Kjell Torriset at the De La Warr Pavilion 2003)

Hubbard encourages us to envisage the romance of the ‘faded’ and dilapidated buildings.

Even now his large studio is tucked away in St Leonards on Sea and not Hoxton.  This allows for a healthy intellectual and aesthetic detachment.  (p17 Sue Hubbard, Kjell Torriset at the De La Warr Pavilion 2003)

It seems pertinent that this is Torriset’s first major exhibition in Britain even though he exhibits extensively throughout Scandinavia.  I feel Hastings is a pleasant trap.  Cheap rent and a beautiful landscape but few opportunities unless obtained from connections made in London (or internationally in Torriset’s case).

In her lecture, Caire Scanlon (Fine Artist) described how she was first approached by her art dealer at the private view of her MA graduation show at Goldsmiths College.  Scanlon sold all her paintings through the one dealer, and developed a successful formula. The ink blot paintings using varnish on monochrome canvas ‘sold like hot cakes’ (Claire Scanlon Professional Development Lecture HCAT 02).  Her dealer has now stopped trading.  Scanlon, having recently moved to Seaford is now struggling to find new opportunities in the area.  Katie Holford (Glass and Ceramics) believes that fifty percent of an artists time should be spent on marketing.  Many of her opportunities were through networking contacts.

I started art college when the whole yBa (young British artist) phenomenon kicked off.  Damien Hirst and friends were all making the headlines of the national newspapers with their antics.  They got everybody talking about art and reached ‘rock star’ notoriety.  In retrospect, I think we needed the yBa’s to show us that art could still have a powerful presence in society.  Tracy Emin appearing on television, drunk and swearing, was a parallel to the sex pistols shaking up our living rooms in the 70’s.  The yBa’s made it cool for everyone to go to galleries and buy contemporary art.

Art school was about trying to find out what interested me, not how to paint.

The underlying emphasis of art-school training… moved from ‘Discover ways to render and create form’ towards ‘Discover, and develop, the artistic persona that best suits you.’ (P131 What is painting? Julian Bell Thames and Hudson 1999)

My tutors cross examined me… What did I like/dislike? Why?  I liked Sigmar Polke because his work is eclectic, tasteless, decorative, humorous, and, well, difficult to define or label.

The emphasis on individuality was intended to give the student boldness of purpose, among a plurality of media and a proliferation of images.  Any formal means might be yours for the taking, if only you could make it a part of a coherent personal act.  Reality awaited your shaping. (P131 What is painting? Julian Bell Thames and Hudson 1999)

Gary Hume felt this was too much of a burden after the success of his only big idea: the ‘Hospital Door’ series;

My art education was based upon the notion of having an idea and then being able to act on it and make something concrete… I searched for another idea and found I had no ideas… It was terrible… So I asked myself what is it I want? (P14 Gary Hume Whitechapel Gallery, Adrian Searle)

When I am in my studio, I ask myself,
What is is that I want to do?

What is good painting?

How do I make a good painting?

Chris Keenan (Potter) repeated ‘there are no rules’. (Chris Keenan Professional Development Lecture HCAT 2003) Damien Hirst said;

The rules of art aren’t so mad… You know, if there’s anything wrong with the art world, I blame the artists, I don’t blame anyone else.  There are no rules. (P73 On the Way to Work Damien Hirst Gordon Burn Faber & Faber 01)

 If I can do anything, what shall I do/what is worthwhile?

Am I making work to sell locally or do I want to produce a body of work to promote and exhibit further afield?

Do I want a marketable identity/theme that people can latch onto?

Keenan suggested that having an open studio was important because collectors are ‘not just buying the work, they are buying into you’.  (Chris Keenan Professional Development Lecture HCAT 03)  Dumas wrote ‘I paint because I like to be bought and sold…’ (P126 Marlene Dumas (originally published in Parkett 1993) Phaidon 2000)

Artists, commentators and buyers all equate personalities with the art work.  Rachel Feinstein, a New York artist has had recent success with her sculptures, mixing popular imagery with baroque influences.  In Vogue she is described as;

Wacky, seductive, slightly macabre, completely charming and totally intriguing, Rachel Feinstein, 31, is a lot like the sculptures she has become internationally famous for creating (P369 Bronyn Cosgrave meets Rachel Feinstein Vogue Sept 02)

 Personality has become a replacement for the avant-guard.  Reading the catalogue essay for The Unthought Known, I find a description of the effect of art history on an artists practice.  Based on Hal Fosters  theories in The Return of the Real, Bimbaum describes the repetitions in art as ‘a hysterical acting out as well as laborious working through… the history of art takes place in a labyrinthine echo chamber’ (unpaginated Daniel Birnbaum The Unthought Known White Cube 02)  The shock of the past century of art history is still being assimilated and understood.

Painting doesn’t freeze time.  It circulates and recycles time like a wheel that turns.  Those who were first might well be last.  Painting is a very slow art.  It doesn’t travel with the speed of light.  That’s why dead painters shine so bright. (P126 Marlene Dumas (originally published in Parkett 93) Phaidon 2000)

You react to art history, to the world around you.  ‘You carry out the act’ (P35 Gary Hume Tate Sept/Oct 02) of painting.  It is action, re-action. It is all time based.  Time to apply paint to canvas, drying time, time to consider the next move.  Hume said ‘The artist is a screen on which the world is projected, and the painting is another screen, on which the artist projects the world.’ (P20 Gary Hume Whitechapel Gallery, Adrian Searle)  Guston said

In my experience a painting is not made with colours and paint at all.  I don’t know what a painting is; who knows what sets off even the desire to paint?  It might be things, thoughts, a memory, sensations, which have nothing to do directly with painting itself… The painting is not on a surface, but on a plane which is imagined.  It moves in a mind.  It is not physically there at all.  It is an illusion, a piece of magic, so what you see is not what you see. (P29 Philip Guston from lecture given in 1978 Examining Pictures Whitechapel Gallery 99)

Painting is still an enigma for me.  I gain most strength and optimism from my Super Heroes like Picasso, Matisse, Jasper Johns, Eva Hesse, Marlene Dumas, Sigmar Polke… John Baldessari wrote Polke is an Artist’s Artist;

His work is a font of ideas.  Any one move can provide a career for a lesser artist.  He is a font; a treasury… Giotto and Matisse have long been in my pantheon.  I’m thinking of adding a third – Polke.

He makes my glad that I’m an artist (P20 John Baldessari Sigmar Polke San Francisco Museum of Modern Art 90)

I think that you are what you are doing.  I am glad I am a painter.  I shall continue to make up my own rules as I go along, and even one day become more myself…

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