Saturday, 29 July 2017

Work In Progress: 'This S(c)epic Isle' . 'Fridge Door Paintings' 1

'Fridge Door Painting' (Work In Progress), Acrylics & Mixed Media On 
Salvaged Refrigerator Door, July 2017

I’ve all but given up hoping that 2017 will start feeling less like hard work.  For whatever reason - this year has so far been largely characterised by a lack of urgency and dynamism.  A suitable word to describe the overall sensation might be ‘lacklustre’.  Nevertheless, although my artwork might have slowed a bit, it has remained extant (and relatively steady).  The various ideas and nascent projects I identified at the start of the year all still feel more or less ‘live’ in my own mind, even if I’m forced to acknowledge that there’s only ever time (or energy) to address a small part of it all.  Anyway, the arrival of the blessed educational summer break helps a lot in that respect, so it feels like time for another work-in-progress post.

'Fridge Door Paintings' (Work In Progress), Acrylics & Mixed Media On 
Salvaged Refrigerator Doors, July 2017

As implied above, my current habit is to mentally organise my work (or projected work) into discrete projects, each with its own themes or implied agenda.  It may be an unnecessarily anal approach, but does allow me to prioritise without feeling overwhelmed by all the thought of all the stuff I might (but aren’t) doing at any given time.  For the time being, the main focus remains on my ‘This S(c)eptic Isle’ project [1.].

I’ve already shown some ofthe initial ‘Flag’ pieces belonging to it, and alluded to the extended found text piece which triggered it all in the first place.  Undoubtedly, the initial stimulus for the project was my feelings of disillusionment/bafflement/anger around the E.U. referendum, and the wider contexts of rising Nationalism, ignorance, division and misguided or pernicious agendas swirling around it.  However, whichever side of that particular fence one falls on, it feels more like a symptom of a much wider psycho-sociological situation, than just the single, identifiable cause of all our current ills.  In reality, technological acceleration, the joined-up nature of our digital age, the logics of Capitalism and trade, and an increasingly insecure environment, all make the fraught negotiation between the global and the parochial feel like an inescapable theme of the century.

'Fridge Door Painting' (Work In Progress), Acrylics & Mixed Media On 
Salvaged Refrigerator Door, July 2017

In my mind at least, ‘This S(c)eptic Isle’ is evolving into a kind of wider address on the current ‘state of things’, with a very clear parochial connect – but hopefully with a strand of implied self-critique of such localism built-in.  Perhaps a more apt descriptor would be ‘The State Of Things (Round Our Way)’ [2.].  With my local hat firmly screwed down, it’s perhaps worth noting that the neighbourhood I inhabit provides plenty of raw material for all this - being a once-productive tract of ‘working class’, inner city habitation.  It now presents as a relatively down-at-heel mélange, comprising lingering vestiges of that older population; immigrants from several continents; white-van tradesmen; gig-workers; low-paid carers and public sector workers; the opportunistic; the ‘Just About Managing’; and the Grimly Hanging On.  It’s neither wasteland or conflict zone as such, but is certainly sufficiently frayed and torn to reflect many of the societal tensions or challenges of 21st Century Britain.

It also provides the resonant motifs around which ‘TSI’ is increasingly coalescing.  If my early adoption of (and visual violence to) the flag motif is a pretty blunt, (and possibly trite) instrument, some of the others feel a little more potentially nuanced. It’s my hope that they might tend slightly more to the allusive than the merely polemical.  The current list would include: discarded white goods (particularly refrigerators), furnishings and household goods; abandoned children’s toys; cardboard boxes (and street trash generally), white vans (certain other colours are permissible); the empty silver capsules of laughing gas enthusiasts; and (a possible new addition, this -) mopeds.  Each is in plentiful supply, and a short walk round the block with the camera, on any given day, will generally throw up new examples.

Each category feels feels freighted with potential associations, and totemic of the way we live.  The common themes of refuse, ‘street-disposal’, and of stuff being discarded generally, can’t really be ignored.  Whether this reflects a sense of disenfranchised populations, lost generations, discarded values, voracious consumerism, or disposable and low-grade aspirations – I’ll leave open to interpretation.  More optimistic spectators might also see evidence of a still (partially) functioning society, in which the local council will (eventually) send a street sweeper or a truck to remove some of the pavement debris, or a scrap-merchant might do the same, in the hope of lucrative recycling (and with slightly greater alacrity).

West Leicester, July 2017

Most specifically, the images here all relate to discarded fridges, and the fact that photographing them quickly led to the realisation I might salvage their doors to act as actual painting supports.  If more interpretive clues where to be offered, they might include ideas about ‘preservation’ generally; about fluctuating occupancy and the provision of ‘mod cons’ and ‘affordable’ accommodation; reluctance or inability to pay the costs of appropriate disposal, insights into the way we eat (or ‘Just Eat’); or even some perceived ambiguity in the term, ‘White Goods’. 

West Leicester, May 2017

West Leicester, July 2017

Anyway, If Jasper Johns is a pretty obvious influence on the early flags, and Robert Rauschenberg – on the idea of street trash, generally, Richard Prince’s repurposed car hoods body panels and van doors should be acknowledged in connection with the fridge doors.  The obvious difference however, is that I choose to treat them more as image-carriers, rather than as wholly sculptural entities - as he has.  Either way, the last few weeks have seen me periodically amassing a small collection of them, before stripping away the unwanted interior elements, and renovating/prepping/priming the exterior surfaces.  With the arrival of the school holidays, I’m finally able to get on with resolving the actual imagery they will carry.

Sketchbook Pages, May - June 2017

Have I been unconsciously delaying the arrival of this stage? – I now ask myself.  It’s noticable that my recent return to working fairly diligently in a sketchbook (something I’d essentially ignored for a couple of years, of late) has somewhat slowed my progress – even as it proves invaluable in ordering my thoughts and considering my options.  It is, I’m convinced, a ‘grown-up’ way to develop ideas and imagery.  However, I also realise that using it to generate well-resolved images, for faithful transcription as larger, final pieces, is no longer really the most rewarding way to work.  If the sketchbook documents my internal monologue, the actual work flows better when many of the final judgments are reserved.  These days, the most meaningful resolutions feel like they’re achieved through chance events and the accumulation of happy accidents, and within the arena of an actual piece [3.].  Those breakthroughs feel more exciting – and are definitely stumbled upon more spontaneously (and rapidly).

Sketchbook Pages, June 2017

Could all this also be why many artists remain taciturn when asked what their work is about, or what it ‘means’?  Regardless of the interpretive hints above, it’s often all this procedural stuff that really comes to fill our heads.  Sometimes it simply means, “Finally, I’ve managed to arrive at something I could bear to stick on the wall – I wonder how, exactly”.  I’m not even at that stage with these.  For now it’s simply a case of , “Oh, these feel reasonably encouraging – I think I can imagine what I might do to complete them.”  We’ll see…

West Leicester, May 2017

[1.]:  This whole internal wrangle over how to word/spell this title continues, even though I thought I’d sorted it in my own mind. (Told you nothing feels easy this year).  Spotting the difference between British and American spellings of ‘Sceptic’/’Skeptic’ is all well and good, but doesn’t excuse the illiterate assumption that ‘Sceptic’ and ‘Septic’ are both spelled the same way.  So, the brackets are back, and now it’s ‘S(c)eptic’.  Am I just trying too hard with all these word games?

[2.]:  Again with the blinkin’ brackets!

[3.]:  And so - despite any professed aspirations to a greater element of conceptualism in my work, it seems that, in this respect, my natural inclination is more towards the organic, intuitive approach of painting.  You can drive yourself mad debating such stuff.  In the end, it’s better to just get on with being whatever kind of artist you can be – instead of mithering about what you think you should be. 


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