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The benefits of practical navel gazing

Since a rush of exhibitions, sales and projects earlier in the year, which followed on from a very busy 2017, I recently planned in time for reflection  and to make new work. The process feels like the stages of a snow globe. One shakes everything up, and observes fragmented ideas swirl. As the movement of the globe slows to stillness,  thoughts glitter, gather order, float and (hopefully) gradually settle into a new and useful sort of clarity. There is a return to drawing, walking, running and seeing exhibitions – as well as many many conversations with artist friends, clients and galleries/ art consultants (thank you).

Preparing for Open Studios recently helped this process by offering an opportunity to think again about space: the relationships between paintings and space and the viewer’s own physical experience.  In the early stages of my career I made sculpture. Creating the vertical landscapes (and other large works) has been a return to thinking about the importance of an embodied viewing process.

Having set up the studio in July 2017 I have developed ways of inhabiting space when making. For example, I habitually paint on the right far wall, which means I can view a painting from the distance of the doorway. I spend most of my time hovering on the threshold, with paint brush in hand, and then pacing back and forth. The painting will be moved up and down, laid on the floor, turned upside down and sideways, viewed in different lights at different times of day. I know it is finished when it feels right. This isn’t conscious, its cellular – felt in skin, and gut. Sometimes, the conscious mind interrupts too much. I battled with a painting recently for a few months until one day, it shouted its name loudly back at me. I thought best at that point to send it to the framer immediately before I was tempted to attack it again with wire wool.

For open studios then, hanging a body of works together created an opportunity to think about what was working, what was missing, where the frustrations are, how the paintings operate in space and call forth a physical response from the viewer. They don’t need to be enormous for this to occur. Sometimes small works are just as punchy and surprising.

In last months blog, I spoke about a queasy feeling – if something is too representational with not enough poetry or breath, then it will make me feel queasy, irritated, restless, until it is destroyed and something else is found. And then, that’s where the magic of transformation occurs – the thing that is surprising, that comes together and announces itself. This recent body of work feels transitional somehow, way finding pieces enroute to somewhere.

What seems important for now is that some aspects of the physicality of the making practice translate for a viewer experiencing a painting – to speak to their skin-sense – because that is where the moment of art really lives –  in other people’s personal, emotional and embodied reactions.

To view a selection of Alex’s new works, download a pdf – you can view them in person at The Other Art Fair, Bristol – 26 – 29 July.



Spring Sky, 2018 light fast acrylic ink and traditional gesso ground on birch, Alex McIntyre

Restless Sky, 2018 light fast acrylic ink and traditional gesso ground on birch, Alex McIntyre

Photos – Graham Matthews.