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Drawing – absence and surface

In last month’s post I shared some of the intentions behind my work, namely –

To create paintings that offer spaces of deep listening, embodied reflection and transportation for the viewer. The paintings are an invitation to breathe more deeply, to be alert and present, to step out of the mental noise of everyday life.

In this post, I want to revisit those intentions and to share some research and new work – snippets of the material conversations, reading, thinking and making I have been doing to move my practice forwards – and so to creep closer to that arrogant goal.

Working with land and sky since 2015, the paintings themselves evolve through a physical engagement with being outside. They draw on the visual language of land, sky and space yet increasingly resist the ‘where is it’ of representation. One painting might be the summary of months of walking at a certain time whilst another might arrive immediately and intuitively. If a painting is too rooted in literal representation then it is actively destroyed either by chucking ink over the top and then rubbing or stripping it back or by sanding away layers to discover the pausing silence of space.

Detail of new work.

Underpinning this process is a material conversation that is really about a visceral response to surface. In the Poetry Exchange podcast with the actor Paterson on Roxy Dunn’s poem, “5 am”, he says that ‘he get’s’ Dunn’s poems and that at the end of reading every poem it generates a response in him that is ‘a very Caribbean thing’ – a sound – that is shoulders going down and a deep heart belly exhalation, satisfaction, completeness sound – “huhnmm”. (you can listen to the podcast here to know what I mean: Ever since listening to this podcast over a year ago I have been struck by that sound. It is the expression of the way certain sculptures or paintings feel – and the quality assurance I am searching for.

That sound is 4B Pencil marks on gesso; charcoal and shellac; different densities of shellac; sandpaper through shellac on gesso soaked with ink – especially indigo, paynes gray, or turquoise; ultra marine; the brush marks in painted gesso revealed by ink – but NOT if the whole surface is painted and agitated – only some parts; polished, sponged, naked gesso; sanded back, wire wooled, waxed gesso; the memory of minute marks and flaws, lines, drips, imperfections; the built up patina of fighting with a surface over a period of time – saturating it and knocking it back next to an absence of ink….

Detail of new work.

In “To Take Paper, To Draw” (Landscapes, John Berger on Art), Berger reflects on three types of drawings: “those that study and question the visible; those that record and communicate ideas; and those done from memory”. He says, ” the distinction between the three is important, for each type survives in a different way. Each speaks in a different tense. To each we respond with a different capacity of imagination”. A drawing from any of the three categories can be “miraculous” and can acquire another “temporal dimension”. This comes from the fact that they are drawings, “only notes on paper” with the key ingredient being the paper: “The paper becomes what we see through the lines, and yet remains itself. […] The paper lends itself between the lines to become tree, stone, grass, water, cloud. Yet it can never for an instant be confused with the substance of any of these things, for evidently and emphatically, it remains a sheet of paper.” (Landscapes, John Berger on Art, chapter 2 p20-26, ISBN 978-1-7847-8584-0 published by Verso, 2016).

I have often thought of the work I make not as painting but closer to drawing with its roots in the direct modelling and carving of plaster. The gesso surface is similar to a sheet of paper. It offers silence, space, pause, muscle, poetry, memory, substance and absence. The process of working with it is a conversation full of surprises, problems and opportunities.

The recent paintings balance between the gesso surface – naked, marked, scarred, built up, pencilled, shellacked, polished, punctuated by brush marks and colour. They are not monochrome drawings but still intend, perhaps, to be like “notes on paper” – love notes to the miraculous world we inhabit. To breathing and space.

New works will be available to view at:

  1. The Other Art Fair, Victoria House, London 3-6 October
  2. Land, Sea, Sky with Byard Art Cambridge – PV 3 October – with exhibition running until 27 October
  3. The Other Art Fair, Brooklyn, 7-10 November