Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Mail Shots 5

Sneinton, Nottingham, January 2017

It's time for the mail-slot slot again.  These never really go anywhere, other than to top-up my prevailing love of formal geometry  and Modernist frontally.  Nevertheless, they're always there, in the background of nearly every urban photoshoot I conduct - and so my collection slowly grows.  These were captured over recent  months - mostly in Nottingham, (supplemented by one from my own Leicester back yard).

Central Nottingham, September 2016

They form a kind of, largely unexploited, notional sub-theme, at this stage.  Doubtless, one could construct a thesis around their symbolism as conduits of faltering, analogue communication, or as organs of admittance.  Somewhat simplistically, it's difficult not to read them as oral simulacra.  I'm also aware of an implied dialogue between notions of impassive closure and gaping vacuity.  That, in turn, seems to trigger a slew of related fantasies about the status of whatever spaces lie beyond.  Either way, I'm equally attracted to the smartly-painted-green-chequer-plate, and the rotted-plank-and-wire-basket iterations.  

Former Cattle Market Site, Nottingham, April 2017

The pretension and allusive prolixity of all this is deliberate and unashamed.  It is, however, equally valid to suggest that these images represent little more than some periodic recourse to a visual comfort zone.

West Leicester, April 2017

It also occurs to me that, in time, they might also come to form a surprisingly comprehensive catalogue of physical urban texture, revealed via the medium of building materials, and construction techniques.

Former Cattle Market Site, Nottingham, April 2017

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Love In The Underpass (Trip Switch My Heart))

North West Leicester, April 2017

This is the first urban heart to feature here for quite a while.  Appropriately enough, I found it, earlier today, in my favourite subway/underpass system - beneath one of Leicester's main arteries.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Completed Painting: 'Untitled (From The New School) 5'

'Untitled (From The New School) 5', Acrylic & Paper Collage On Panel,
30 cm X 30 cm X 106 mm, 2017

Here's the fifth in the 'Untitled (From The New School' series of small panels.  There's nothing particularly new to say about the motivations behind the series as a whole, so I'll refer anyone wanting to catch up here, here, here and here.

I'm rather enjoying this deliberate, highly synthetic mode of painting.  It's the antithesis of any heroic painterly 'struggle' (which suits me fine), and certainly allows me to produce them fairly quickly.  Any occasional insecurities I might feel about it all being too easy, or a bit too much of a production line, are dispelled by remembering that it's the series as a whole that will really constitute any final statement, and that each of these little paintings is as much a component of a composite entity, as anything overly profound in its own right.

As far as this particular iteration goes, the main thing to say is that it was just plenty of fun to paint.  It occurs to me that 'fun' is some thing artists (or painters, at least), often neglect to talk about.  We're much more used to hearing about artistic quandaries, existential despair, or just the frustrations of wrestling an image into some form of resolution (then deciding it's no good after all).  Is that to stave off any risk of this stuff seeming too frivolous or facile, I wonder?

But, really, what's so wrong about admitting the simple pleasures to be found in simply balancing a composition or laying-down colours, or in discovering that an educated guess or happy accident create something that just 'works'?  My hunch is that, if the underlying idea is strong enough, or the artist is sincere enough in their motivations, admitting to some joy in the physical realisation might signify a healthy creative process, at least as much as all that traditional angst [1.].

So I'm not going to pretend I didn't enjoy harnessing those areas of random collage or painterly gesture, in a deliberately 'knowing' manner.  The magic 'reveal' of peeling away masking tape never gets old, and  laying down that flat field of cadmium red - well, that was an unalloyed, sensual delight.  Sue me...

[1.]:  In this context, I'm reminded of songwriter/comedian, Tim Minchin, and his song, 'Dark Side'.  Minchin is a man who seems perfectly happy to balance the profound with the mechanics of showbiz (and clearly sees no conflict in producing quality work whilst drawing a salary from the Disney Corp.).  The intro. to this performance of 'Dark Side'/ underlines that this stuff is all just artifice anyway. 

Monday, 27 March 2017

Completed Painting: 'Untitled (From The New School) 4'

'Untitled (From The New School) 4', Acrylic & Paper Collage On Panel,
30 cm X 30 cm X 106 mm, 2017

Here then, is ‘Untitled (From The New School) 4’.  These little paintings seem to be coming fairly thick and fast and, as already mentioned, it’s pleasing to have something tangible to show for several months of groundwork (on several projects), but relatively few actual ‘outcomes’.

I’ve come to dislike that O-word with a mild passion, over the years, - associating it with the edu-babble of theoretical jargon that besets the school system.  It’s not an objection to the idea of something tangible resulting from all that investment of effort by teachers and learners alike (tick), but possibly something to do with the current assumption that it must always be predictable and measurable.  However, in this context, it actually feels highly appropriate.  As the title of this painting series suggests, an oblique reflection on various competing ideologies and theoretical frameworks at play within education, is an overarching theme within this work, (‘overarching’ – tick, there’s another one).

Andrew Smith, 'The New School', Acrylic & Digital Print On Canvas, 2016

As also previously mentioned, all this was ignited by the evocative title of Andrew Smith’s painting ‘The New School’.  However I also earn my daily corn in a supporting role in a secondary school which has, in recent years - been extensively remodeled under the BSF  programme [1.], reinvented itself as a Teaching School [2.], and become the flagship of an expanding Academy chain [3.].  The rate of systemic change I’ve observed bemusedly from the sidelines, over the last decade, has been breathtaking.  It seems inevitable therefore, that there’s something of a personal, as well as a theoretical resonance to all this.

It’s now clear that the distinctly architectural motif from Andrew’s original painting is becoming a repeat-carrier for a series of consciously selected modes of painting, as the series develops.  The idea is that this might imply, in a non-specific sense, the imposition of different theoretical, philosophical and political orthodoxies upon institutionalised schooling, over the decades.  I’m old enough to remember the scrapping of the ‘11-Plus’ system, to have been educated in a purpose-built 70s Comprehensive, (and to have been surprisingly committed to the ideals it espoused – even at that tender age), and to now witness the imposition of an ever more rigid business model, and talk of a return to selective schooling.  I feel moderately qualified to comment, if only on the grounds of age alone, (“I’ve seen ‘em come, and I’ve seen ‘em go…”etc.).

The first three panels display a gentle progression through a distinctly sunny mode of hard-edged depiction, which could suggest a kind of utopian optimism – but equally, a bland, PR-driven corporatism, I suppose. In ‘4’ however, things seem to have taken a somewhat more dystopian turn.  In fact, it’s actually a return to the largely monochrome, hybrid form of painting/collage that characterised last year’s ‘Vestige’ paintings.  If that evolved in a fairly organic manner previously - here it’s been employed more consciously as another potential ‘style’, in accord with the greater intentionality of this current series.

If this is a revisiting of the ‘Vestige’ aesthetic, it’s illuminating to recall that it was also incorporated into the ground of Andrew’s ‘The New School’ piece.  Indeed, this whole process began following a proposal that we should enter into an on-going process of reinterpreting or reworking each other.  It seems then that, in this latest painting, not only am I in conscious dialogue with Andrew’s work, but also my own.

'Vestige 2', Acrylics, paper Collage, Adhesive Tape, Ink, Spray Enamel & Misc. Solvents On Panel,
60 cm X 60 cm, 2016

There’s one last point worthy of note – relating to the modest scale of these panels, and the methodical manner of their production.  To date, each one has actually been produced in installments on school premises, during my lunch breaks, or at the end of the working day.  That situation arises out of logistical convenience, rather than any deliberate strategy – but it does mean that aside from their inspiration, these paintings are quite literally ‘From The New School’.

[1.]: 'Building Schools For The Future':  The most recent concerted attempt to renew Britain's school infrastructure in recent years.  Begun under the previous Labour administration, and continued by the Tories.  Many new builds have certainly been carried out - although exactly to what standard is debatable.  Some have questioned its apparent role in diverting vast sums of much-needed public money into private hands.

[2.]:  Similar to a Teaching Hospital - in that an institution aims to become a centre of excellence in training new teachers at the same time as educating children.  Whilst the undoubted pressure-cooker effect of a one-year PGCE-type course still apply, there would certainly appear to be some valuable synergies under this model.

[3.]:  Current political orthodoxy decrees that rapidly-expanding consortiums of increasingly autonomous educational institutions should assume the role once played by local government in the provision of state education.  The pros and cons of this are complex and way beyond the scope of this blog post.  Suffice it to say, cynics might argue that certain business imperatives must surely win-out over democratic or utopian ideals, under such a model - to some extent at least.  Proponents doubtless see this as no problem at all.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Invisible City 1

Soho, London, March 2017

"Kublai:  'Perhaps this dialogue of ours is taking place between two beggars nicknamed Kublai Khan and Marco Polo; as they sift through rubbish heap, piling up rusted flotsam, snaps of cloth, wastepaper, while drunk on the few sips of bad wine, they see all the treasure of the East shine around them'.

"Polo:  'Perhaps all that is left of the world is a wasteland covered with rubbish heaps, and the hanging garden of the Great Khan's palace.  It is our eyelids that separate them, but we cannot know which is inside and which outside.'" [1.]

[1.]:  Italo Calvino, 'Invisible Cities', London, Secker & Warburg, 1974

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Completed Painting: 'Untitled (From The New School) 3'

'Untiled (From The New School) 3', Acrylic & Laser Print On Panel,
30 cm X 30 cm X 106 mm, 2017

Three's a crowd; but (in my mind, at least) it's also the point at which a group of closely-related artworks might be first thought of as a series.  Thus, I guess this new painting represents the an early fulfilment of my desire to produce a series of pieces in response to Andrew Smith's painting 'The New School'.

However, it really is just a beginning.  '4' is already in progress, with several more of these deep little panels made and waiting.  The intention is to produce a lot of these, at least whilst the inspiration and novelty prevail.  It's completely the wrong way to think, of course, but I can't help imagining a room with a whole procession of them around the walls.  That really is to put the cart before the horse though, so I'm just going to focus on one at a time, without putting any proposed final number on the series, until they (or I) run out of steam.

I've thought quite a bit about this tendency I have to work in groups or series just lately.  The reality is that, over the last few years, it's been increasingly rare for me to make a simple, self-contained statement, and simply let it stand on its merits independently.  This isn't the place to expound on the wider implications of that (and to any deeper psychological insights they may reveal) - not least because I haven't really come to any meaningful conclusions as yet.  However, don't be too surprised if I return to the theme in future posts.

Andrew Smith, 'The New School', Acrylic & Digital Print On Canvas, 2016

'Untitled (From The New School) 1', Acrylic On Panel,
30 cm X 30 cm X 112 mm, 2017

'Untitled (From The New School) 2', Acrylic & Laser Print On Panel,
30 cm X 30 cm X 112 mm, 2017

As far as this individual piece goes, it's clear there is a little progression from its two predecessors, and it's worth mentioning that this synthetically 'pretty' colouration is a deliberate departure from the cooler-hued palette of both them and Andrew's original image.    It's also the first to incorporate some form of observed 'reality' - the implied window is now tacitly accepted as such. It was originally nothing more than two blocks of colour, but now includes simplified, references to the actual reflections in a glass curtain observed at my own workplace.  In other respects, we're still firmly in the territory of careful, formally precise painting here.  It's certainly not my intention that all of them will be that way though - and that appears to be changing even as I write this.  More soon... 

Monday, 13 March 2017

Palette Cleanser

All Palette Images: Room A1.13, March 2017

As ever, one thing leads to another.  Furthermore, these days, it feels like I’m almost incapable of forming any kind of thought or gesture that doesn’t immediately seek to inflate into something more extensive.  Thus, what was intended to be a simple throwaway in my previous post - now turns into a whole suite of related images in this one.

I doubt there can be a single painter who hasn’t, at some point, casually fantasised about displaying their paint-mixing palettes, as if paintings in their own right.  Whatever form it takes, the palette automatically becomes an arena for all that gorgeous materiality in its purest, most automatic form - as yet free from the need to describe, evoke, or otherwise earn its keep.

The congealed residue generally displays a mode of unintentional painterliness that even the freest Abstract Expressionist could only dream of.  Its recognition as a possible image is, by its very nature, an after-the-event deal.  Naturally, the act of actively applying paint to a painting's substrate, however little deliberation one may affect, can never be as unconscious or uncoupled, as its manipulation, prior to the act.  The application is never fully divorced from some degree of intention, and even the cultivation of deliberately accidental methods is always different from a 'true' accident.  It relates, I suspect, to that scientific idea that the simple act of observing an experimental process, inevitably alters it.

There is clearly nothing very original about my cataloguing these encrusted palettes during the course of my routine day-job chores in the classroom.  And yet, I still couldn’t resist them; not least for their purely sensual appeal – but also because their status as Art Room accoutrements means their final appearance is even more the consequence of cumulative, communal, (and to be honest - sometimes, genuinely unheeding) activity.

In reality, by the time you read this, many may have been transformed by yet more layers of pigment mangling – making each of these photos true testament to a frozen moment within an on-going process; and one lacking a single author.  I can’t help wondering if part of my delight in separating each one from their glutinous stack beside the sink, wasn’t also because they form such an obvious antidote to my own extremely deliberate self-conscious approach to painting, just lately.

I thought about all this intention/unintention stuff again, a few days later, while talking to my friend, and fellow artist, Andrew Smith, on a day full of slightly strange art-related coincidences and apparent random correspondences.  These played-out through a series of Birmingham’s smaller galleries, but we ultimately found ourselves discussing a piece of Andrew’s own recent work.  At first glance, it appeared to be a pleasingly ephemeral abstract painting, apparently arrived at through largely accidental means.  

Andrew Smith. (Exact Details Unknown - Possibly Work In Progress), 2017

We mulled-over his quandary over whether to work into the image any further, and I reflected on my own inability to ever just let a minimal statement lie (as an habitual 'over-worker').  Then, Andrew revealed we were actually viewing the reverse of a previous ‘failed’ image.  The marks actually originated as traces of more deliberate statements simply bleeding through the lightly-primed canvas, and are thus – about as unintentional and after-the-event as they could be.  That simple piece of information completely alters the piece in my mind, transforming it from something of primarily sensory (and sensual) import - to something with at least as much potentially conceptual/philosophical (and distinctly Cageian) freight.

Like I said (and have repeatedly observed), one thing inevitably leads to another - and another...