Masters Project 2018/2019

Currently I'm undertaking a Master of Arts (painting) through Wintec, Hamilton, New Zealand. At the moment my project is about constructing images of landscapes familiar to me from my past and present that evoke a sense of the likeness of a place or landscape, represent my experiences and memory of place, and show tactile interactions and direct contact with the sites.

I'll use this page to discuss modes of practice and cultural debate relating to my project, as well as philosophical issues that shape the experience of contemporary painting, and to show my methodology and flow of ideas.

 
 
Julie Mehretu, Co-Evolution of the Futurrhyth Machine (After Kodwo Eshun), 2013, graphite, ink, and acrylic on canvas, 9 x 10 feet

Julie Mehretu, Co-Evolution of the Futurrhyth Machine (After Kodwo Eshun), 2013, graphite, ink, and acrylic on canvas, 9 x 10 feet

ENTRY ONE: THE IN-BETWEEN

Some paintings are described as representing an ‘in-between’ space - a space that is in between what we can see and what might be there. Some paintings are also described as having something about them that gives a sense of place, or that invite you in to another space.  I’m interested in exploring paintings that that have these things going on.

Alain HUCK, Kuroi Ame, 2007, charcoal on paper, 250x368 cm

Alain HUCK, Kuroi Ame, 2007, charcoal on paper, 250x368 cm

 In a video titled ‘Julie Mehretu:  The in-between place’[1] Julie talks about her work as representing an ambiguous and other-worldly space, and how it provides a sense of space that you can move into, where you can experience a new geography.  Her work has different levels of reading - as a whole the work has a beautiful and imposing and organic impact, and up close it has a totally new reading as the depth and layers of imagery engages you.  There is not a clear view but a multi-layering of architectural drawings and plans of buildings overlaid with intuitive gestural drawing, which becomes apparent as you take a closer look.  A new image emerges from the intermingling of these images as the levels of imagery become fused. 

Other artists whose work I’ve looked at have a sense of the in-between going on in their work.  The superimposing of images used by Alain Huck, David Ratcliff and Julie Mehretu; the materiality of the painting disrupting recognisable imagery by Cecily Brown, Peter Doig, and Marina Rheingantz, and the use of reflection, mirroring or repetition to distort imagery are effective ways to do this.  All these methods distort or disrupt recognisable imagery, which invite the engagement of your imagination while looking at them, while still providing some links to the original source material.

If I relate Jane Bennett’s theory on vibrant matter[1] to this ‘in-between’ non-physical sense of a physical place, it might describe the sense as coming from the landscape matter itself.  Bennett explores the ‘resistant force’ that things have to the meanings we interpret about them and place on them, and suggests that they not only deflect these meanings but exert their own self-generated energy or messages.  She suggests that there is a kind of autonomous energy that can be encountered which could explain the sense of an in-between.

Jean-François Lyotard and Bennett share the view that it is in an encounter or an interaction between things where understanding occurs.  In Scapeland [3]  Lyotard says that there is more to a landscape than its physical description, but that it is an encounter. I’m suggesting that the encounter between people and landscape is where the in-between can be experienced.  

He goes on to say that landscape is more than what we can know or describe about a place, landscape is unknowable in its fullness.  And that in a landscape we are unsettled and have a sense of displacement.

Linked to this idea of the in-between is the idea of the sublime which has been talked about for at least a couple of hundred years.[4]  In an article titled ‘Contemporary Art and the Sublime’[5]  Julian Bell describes the ‘sublime’ as ‘a controlled encounter with power that is beyond our control’.  Bell’s article talked about the terrifyingly delightful reactions we have to the untamed power of the natural world, almost like an adrenalin rush, and although my practice is not about this, I can utilise this history of the sublime to represent the wonder and fascination with presenting the unpresentable.

[1] Julie Mehretu: the in-between place, Video on the Lousiana Channel https://vimeo.com/72331885   

[2] Bennett, J. (2010).  The Force of Things. In Vibrant Matter: A political ecology of things. (pp 1-19). Durham & London: Duke University Press

[3] In J., & Benjamin, A. (1989).  Scapeland. The Lyotard reader. Oxford : Basil Blackwell, 1989

[4] note Immanual Kant’s ‘Critique of Judgement’ 1790, and Edmund Burke’s ‘Philosophical Enquiry’ 1957)

[5] Bell, J. (2013). Contemporary Art and the Sublime.  In Nigel Llewellyn and Christine Riding (eds.), The Art of the Sublime, Tate Research Publication, January 2013.  Retrieved from https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/the-sublime/julian-bell-contemporary-art-and-the-sublime-r1108499, accessed 06 June 2018

 
 

ENTRY TWO: PARIS, AMERICA, AND PAINTING

What the work of Claude Monet and some American Abstract painters working in the 1950s have in common

18th August 2018

It was a really sunny morning in Paris, the day Maryanne and I walked from our hotel to the art gallery where Monet’s big paintings were.  It only took about half an hour and was so good to get out and walk to get my bearings in this huge city – a bit of a change of scenery for a couple of kiwi girls.  We went to three museums on our weekend in Paris, and this museum was one of my favourites because it was smaller and not so crammed with people queuing and walking around in the galleries.

We used our museum pass (I loved it that we didn’t need to queue) and wound our way around to the main gallery. 

And here we were, right in front of Monet’s huge water lily paintings.   I’d heard so much about them, and kind’ve of idolised them in a way, like they were sophisticated French celebrities.  Once I got over the excitement of actually being here, I found them to be calming and quiet kind of paintings, even though their 12m long scale is imposing.  I could walk alongside them back and forth and really get to know them. And after a while of enjoying the beautiful aesthetic and scrutinising the brushwork, they lost some of their celebrity status and settled into a place that was more normal and familiar.

I walked up close and the surface was a muddle of murky colour and the texture was a bit like exterior house bobbly plaster.  Up close it didn’t look anything like landscape, but as I walked back and took in the whole painting it all made sense.  He painted reflections of vegetation and sky in water, and noted how different the light was from morning to evening.

The custom design of the galleries added to the order and calm I experienced with the work, and the many people engaging with the work seemed to be part of the hum about the work.  Each room was the shape of an oval and had four of the paintings hung on their walls, so you could stand in the center and spin around and see all four continuously, through all the crowds of people mingling in the room.  Monet wanted to make an immersive experience for people to view the paintings, and so he designed the rooms to have a lot of natural light by which to see the paintings, and the oval shape of the rooms.  I was fascinated that he had so much vision and follow through to plan and execute the paintings and the physical space to house and present them for years to come.

Then we went downstairs to the exhibition Waterlilies:  American Abstraction and last Monet.  I was so excited about this one – Claude Monets’ work alongside the work of some of artists who have been the most influential in my painting practice right from when I was at art school at Elam twenty years ago.

And here I was with one of Helen Frankenthaler’s huge and lovely paintings, looking like all my Christmases had come at once.  It was more impressive than I imagined.  The colour was delicate and yet strong, I think it was because the colour values were rich even though they were transparent.  And the sheer size of it allowed the colour to soak into me, it filled my line of sight and imposed it’s voice and authority in a gentle manner.

And around the corner I came face to face with a painting by Joan Mitchell, then Philip Guston, Jackson Pollock, Sam Francis – I could hardly contain myself!  As a child, growing up and living in New Zealand, and even doing my study as an art student, I only ever saw these paintings in books (yes books not the internet).  And in books they take on a whole other identity – small and in print on a thin glossy page.  All the paintings become unified and simplified and codified somehow. 

So seeing them in the flesh was a new experience of them, and I understood them in a new way. 

I was mesmerised by Helen Frankenthaler’s use of colour and scale, and the dry and absorbing nature of it all on unprimed canvas – it had an organic thing going on.  The paint work of Mark Rothko and Joan Mitchell, although poles apart in technique were also so beautiful to see.  The paint’s physical presence was something else and satisfying to look closely at.

From an article written by Philip Barcio in Ideel Art, May 14th 2018, retrieved from https://www.ideelart.com/magazine/monet-and-american-abstract-expressionists on 6th November 2018

American artists had the opportunity to sit with Monet’s Water Lilies when exhibited at MoMA in New York in 1955, and Clement Greenberg wrote an essay ‘American-Type Painting’ where he drew connections between the work of Monet and some of the American abstract painters.

Then in 1956 art critic Louis Finkelstein compared the work of Monet and a select group of artists including Joan Mitchell, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Sam Francis and Philip Guston and distinguished them from abstract expressionism by calling it ‘abstract impressionism’.

I need to find out if paintings like these came to New Zealand in the 1950s (or any other time), to see what artists here had the opportunity to see in the flesh.

How all this relates to my work

Being with these paintings made me consider how their physicality impacted me. Not only the large scale, but the way paint was used made me want to run my hands over them, they engaged me. This is what I want my paintings to do, to engage people in an experience of them.

I also saw how my work has been tangibly influenced by this history of painting, and how it has given my practice legs. in particular, colour, scale, and the materiality of paint. Seeing how decades later, American abstract painters were re-imagining some of the ideas that Monet had been interested in, has shown that painters across the generations influence each other.

There was so much more that impacted me here in this exhibition, and I am so grateful for the experience.  This was my favourite exhibition of my time in Europe this year, it was like meeting old friends, and I can’t wait to get back into the studio to make some more paintings.

 
 
 

ENTRY THREE: STORIES FROM THE SLADE

Slade School of Fine Art, UCL, London

Expanded Field of Drawing

13th-31st August 2018

I arrived in London after 27 hours travelling, and was a bit spaced out and sleep deprived.  I’m so excited to be here in London to study at the Slade, see old friends, make new ones, see lots of art, go to Paris and Italy to see art, eat food, and do some hiking.  After being so welcomed by Rachel, Callum, Gabriel, Alba, and Nell, I was all refreshed to start at the Slade.  There are 18 of us from all over the world on the course, and the first morning was a lot of introductions and getting familiar with what was in store for us.  We became a bit like a big family, and it became an enriching time for me to connect with and make art alongside these people for three weeks. Here’s a bit of a rundown of what I did on the course

Ours tutors were Jim Hobbs (moving image), Flore Nove-Josserand (painting),Max Holdaway (sculpture),Visiting artist Tracey Whitehead (previous EFD student),and people who are masters students and artists in residence at the Slade.

Blind drawings with Jim.  On the first day we sat in a room blindfolded and passed each other random objects, then drew them for one minute each.  We did this for an hour and I filled up a workbook with drawings.  Then we made self portraits, with eyes closed we used one hand to feel our faces/heads, and the other to draw for about 45 minutes.  The results were beautiful studies.

16mm film with optical sound with Jim.  We worked with black and clear film as well as found footage, and spliced, scratched, cut, stuck detritus to, to disrupt the optical sound.  The marks produced the sound.  We thought about the chronology of images at 24 frames per second, projection and scale, use still images through OHP, and how images make sound.  My first film loop had some nice sounds that had a beat going, so I made a second film that focused on a repeating musical beat.  Immediacy, repetition and rhythm. 

Journey drawing: Collage

Journey drawing: Collage

Digital drawing with Flore.  We found our way through the rabbit warren of the dungeons of the Slade to the scanner room, and I worked with Maria to experiment with moving found objects like a chux cloth, sponge, screwed up paper to test out the capabilities of the scanner.  I moved things across the surface with the lid up, lid down, changed the pace of the movement, brought objects up close and far away.  I liked the process of not knowing what the image would turn out like, and not having control over that, I think it produced fresh images.

Journey drawings with Jim.  On the second day we had an assignment to make five drawings about journey.  I walked around the surrounding streets and photographed intersections in the pavement or road, then digitally altered them and printed as small square photographs and arranged them overlapping on the wall; took paper pressings of architecture on a walk around the UCL campus; walking drawing on a large consatina book when walking around a park close to the Slade.

Digital drawing

Digital drawing

Sculptural workshop with Max Holdaway.  He prepared a table full of everyday materials – A4 computer paper, corrugated card, all types of paper, packaging… and he demonstrated all kinds of ways to manipulate them to change their character.  I loved doing this workshop, it was fascinating to see everyday materials be changed to something completely different.  I took corrugated card and peeled it until it took on a fluffy airy kind of form, others wet card or paper and re-moulded it.  Then we took a material and made a sculpture in our studio spaces, I used newsprint to make a floating sculpture using two walls and the floor.

We used a Flatbed camera to make a publication which the Slade now has in its archives. We had a group exhibition at the end of the course.  It was good to see all our work together in one space.  I worked on a lot of layered paintings for the last few days, and Max and Jim helped me to arrange them on the wall. We visited some dealer galleries (Sadie Cole, Blain Southern, Spreuth Magers, White Cube) to see what was on. 

I had made an appointment with the Tate to view some of JMW Turner’s workbooks, so when the afternoon came I made my way there and sat in a room where the books were brought out to me, and leafed over by the assistant who worked there.  I wanted to see what his sketchbooks were like, they are about 200 years old, so it was fascinating to see books that old, and I was interested by the volume of watercolour sketches he made.  I also saw some of Peter Doig’s small etchings – they were beautiful, and small.  They worked well small, really well.  I’d like to see some of his paintings because they are really large – and to see how both scales work so well.

Another geographical adventure I had was when I took a trip to Atlantis in South Hackney to get some art supplies.  It was harrowing not only because it was complicated to get there, but also my phone was running out of battery and I was worried that I wouldn’t find my way home!  Google maps and the LFL website were helpful to navigate the underground, overground and walking the streets to get there at 5pm rush hour!  When I arrived there was 20 minutes to closing so I power shopped to my heart’s content.

sculptural drawing: corrugated cardboard

sculptural drawing: corrugated cardboard

How I will feed learnings from this experience into my masters project

Experimenting with expanded approaches to drawing will enhance my painting I think. I’ve learned to broaden my thinking around the function of drawing as an immediate method to capture thought. Pushing myself to work with other mediums and process has been good for me, and I want to continue to do this back in my painting practice. I feel like a rubber band that has been stretched so wide, and now my capacity has grown.

I also enjoyed working alongside others who are also pushing their artistic boundaries, it creates an environment of trying and failing, learning and frustration, and overall it is fun and there is a sense of community.

What I may bring into my methodology:

I’d like to practice more walking drawings on the sites I’m working with; use of projecting images to generate new imagery; push wider with painting methods, techniques, and materials to find new results.

 
 

ENTRY FOUR: GREENBERG, ROSENBERG AND ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM

I wonder if they would be really miffed about being put together like this (again).  Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg’s ideas on abstract expressionism in the 1950s and beyond were so opposing, but I’m thankful that they have articulated them, and I can see how painting has benefitted from both views.

Clement Greenberg (1909-1994) valued the formal aspects of painting (line, colour, composition, texture etc ) and used this to evaluate a painting, and he understood abstract expressionism as coming from the chronological development of the painting tradition from one era to the next.  He thought that modern painting should be concerned with the materiality of paint, rather than content or pychological states which were susceptible to subjectivity.  He was interested in looking at how a painting was painted, not what was painted, and at work that referred back to itself rather than the external world.

For Greenberg, painting can justify itself by looking at the history of painting in a self-referential way.  Any element that is not essential to painting is discarded, and what is left is modern painting.  For example, if perspective can be portrayed in sculpture and photography, then it is not necessary in painting so get rid of it.  When everything that is not unique to painting is discarded, then what is left is paint on a flat two-dimensional surface, and this was the best way to look at a painting, he thought.

“Flatness, two-dimensionality, was the only condition painting shared with no other art, and so Modernist painting oriented itself to flatness as it did to nothing else”[1]  

In stark contrast to Rosenberg, he sees that the painting of the 1950s does this self-referential thing, that solidifies connection to its predecessors.

Helen Frankenthaler . Around the Clock with Red, 1983

Helen Frankenthaler . Around the Clock with Red, 1983

Harold Rosenberg (1906-1978) on the other hand looked at abstract expressionism through the lens of subjection and emotion, and described painting as having broken away from all that had gone before.  He looked at abstract expressionism in this new light and coined the term ‘action painting’, where the canvas was like an arena that recorded the act of painting (at the expense of formal aspects).  He was interested in the subjective, mythical, and existential ideas in painting.

In the act of painting an ‘encounter’ or ‘revelation’ can occur, and aesthetic formalist concerns are subordinated to that.  In this way Rosenberg is advocating the artist’s departure from formalist concerns, he is saying there is no longer any pressure to stick to them, and more than that, he is encouraging artists to leave that behind.  I think of Jane Bennett’s ideas on the encounter between things and what is generated as a result of that.  Rosenberg is talking about the act of painting being a conduit for expression to materialise, and Bennett is talking about how an encounter between matter (all things) is the materialisation of expression.  They both talk about a ‘coming from within’ kind’ve thing.

Action painting came about as an act of liberation from existing moral and social values.  Artists wanted their paintings to be freed from the history of the tradition of painting and the rules used to evaluate and read paintings.  I think of Julie Mehretu and her endeavour to re-frame the histories of the cities and buildings she paints.

detail, Joan Mitchell painting

detail, Joan Mitchell painting

Sources:

Clement Greenberg, “American-type” Painting, 1955

Harold Rosenberg, “The American Abstract Painters”, 1957

[1] Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting”, 1965

 

How this might relate to my work

As a painter, I want to mix appreciation for skill and ability that is valued by formalism and the history of painting, with the authentic connection to people and places, and that engages with the part of us that is human (not denying that we are more than just physical bodies).  I want to make art that is aesthetically skillful and that is relevant to the world we live in today.

I’m also aware that the history of art has been crafted by a dominant culture.  The formalist values of the painting tradition were created and supported by a predominantly western white male group of people and their thinking and values.  How can I approach my art making with this in mind?  Does that mean that I need to abandon formal painting values because of their narrow and culturally isolated history?  Has painting opened up since the 1950s to become a diverse cultural voice?  In what ways has this happened?  What role do public institutions in New Zealand have in this?  How do commercial galleries in New Zealand participate in this?

In my work I am not making paintings that embody an act of painting or a revelation, but I am interested representing my encounter of the landscape in my painting, through the medium of paint.  What painting conventions or values do I want my work to deal with?  What are other artists dealing with in their painting?

My work is about the materiality of paint and the painted surface, and what happens in the process of painting is important, and in this way my work reflects some of Greenberg’s ideas. There is also an aspect to my work that is about recording the act of painting - where I paint on-site on the rocks and and land to pick up textures and the character of the place. In this process I’m not thinking so much about the application of paint or formal painting conventions, I’m more thinking about just picking up the surface of the land, and the painting I end up with is almost a product of that. I’d like to see how this combination of approaches to abstraction unfolds.

 
 

METHODOLOGY

Here are some photographs of gathering information from the landscape sites, and some work in progress. The work was made in Whaingaroa Raglan, and on Mount Taranaki in 2018

CURRENT WORK

For a link to my current work click here