Sunday, February 20, 2011

MA Reflections

The MA induction a week ago has already re lit many of my aspirations for the development of my work. Although I'm always thinking, it is difficult to maintain these lines of enquiry, without focus and purpose. Thinking of the last five months as studio initiation, the work clearly emerges in two groups. The first pieces, with hindsight seem saturated with coloured and layered almost to the extreme. The later pieces have now emerged with a softer palette, less 'finished' as yet, although this is something I need to think carefully about.

We have been asked to respond to a questionnaire linking to our work for tomorrow's seminar. This in principle sounds reasonable but so far, I have found some aspects very difficult. When you have themes in your practice which you value, but you have somewhat lost your way it is very difficult to answer questions like how can you tell if images are successful or not? and how do you position your work in a contemporary context?
However, I have as always done my best and tried to really break down want concerns me...

Generating and selecting ideas:

Photos are my main image reference, mine, other people's or found, happily or through specific searches. The Internet, magazines, books and visiting exhibitions, people I meet and people I would like to meet. Often the criteria for selection is that the person is aesthetically pleasing to me in some way, not specifically a beauty, but a sense of knowing, curiosity or appeal. The eyes are so important, a sideways glance or full on stare to the viewer. Without the eyes there is nothing to draw me in. Sometimes a smile or flicker of a smile can be enough. Feminine, or androgynous, young or youthful and by preference blue eyes. These ideas alone are always substantial enough to drive my work forward although there is a process of waiting for the right image. Or looking for the right way in. Scale can be difficult as my preference is bigger. As they evolve the colours may change, symbols are added and erased, layers are rubbed out and washed away. I never feel 'stuck', but spend a lot of time thinking and watching my paintings, again washing down, rubbing away, repainting and adding. There is an issue with ownership when it's someone else's photo, although I feel that the image become mine when it is painted. I want the performative element but I don't want posed images. But also young women to pose for me.

Contextual Research 

Influences: Female black and white photographers; Claude Cahun, Diane Arbus, Francesca Woodman, Michal Chelbin. Portrait painters; Nicky Hoberman, Alice Neel, Paula Rego, Elizabeth Peyton.  Painters; Peter Doig.
Themes: portrait, gaze, surface (dribbles), costume/props, gawkiness, androgyny, the female, carnivalesque, performance, fluidity.
These come from years of looking, visiting galleries, reading books, word of mouth, Internet based research, immersing in visual culture. I'm not sure how my work fits in a contemporary context yet - to explain that in my notes here is too loaded at this time. I would like to have more primary source materials to work from and more I'm sure we all would.


Initially judgements about others' works are usually based on colour and appeal. Just a gut reaction. Skill, I suppose, but it's so subjective - and what is 'good' and 'bad' art anyway? There has to be something to connect with, personally, whether this is consciously or not, and also a sense of whether their work is informed by their own context. In terms of work being 'successful or not', this has to be linked to personal satisfaction. If you feel that a piece works, and has developed the themes you are concerned with clearly and you are content that it is resolved. This has got to be key from the artist's viewpoint. How the audience/viewer responds your piece. If the work has developed in skill or in the way it communicates ideas. If the piece communicates some of what you intended, but also allows the viewer to explore and interpret in their own way. Comparing work with others' is very difficult; coming from a degree when there were loads of painters onto a course where there is a smaller cohort with far fewer working in the same media leaves this question open for speculation. My paintings are skillful in my use of paint and accuracy, when compared with others. I don't use enough first hand experience to complete and inform my work which could be seen as making it rather superficial at times although I rather like the concept of artifice. The layers of paint and composition tend to work well; the latter I attribute to the way I plan the image. There is a sense of is it finished? and at this time I find it difficult to know if and when this is the case, often overworking pieces or trying to return them to their 'less finished' state. 

Materials and techniques

Oil on canvas. With thinners and linseed. Brushes in a range of sizes. Largish canvases. I love them and they work with me...well. 

Communication and intention

Themes: portrait, gaze, surface (dribbles), costume/props, gawkiness, androgyny, the female, carnivalesque, performance, fluidity.

The themes which concern me are what I hope is conveyed by my work...but also whatever the viewer can take from it. I try to show fluidity of gender, character and materials through the surface of the paint. Performance through props and expression, and the eyes. Layering to indicate the mask. Detachment through working from photos, but still the ability to catch your gaze. .why the dribbles?

Critical thinking

My research has made great changes to the way I think about my work, and the way I construct it. Currently I am trying to understand the mechanics of Nicky Hoberman's paintings. If I see an aspect of an images that attracts me, I often try to reinterpret it subtly in my own work. Occasionally, contextual research can be distracting, but I never feel that it has a negative can never have too much as far as I'm concerned.

Specifically, to date, Claude, Francesca, Nicky and Cindy have served me well, although this is to name but a few; there are countless images, artists and exhibitions which have set me thinking and making. I forgot to mention Roni Horn, who on face value seems to have no connection with me work, but has an appreciation of the multiple and series which compliment the thinking behind some pieces. 

1 comment:

  1. Where do you see your work in a contemporary context? Ick, not only is that an utterly difficult question it also feels like a loaded question. Dangerous.

    As to your dribbles, I always thought they added to the sense of unreality or pretend that your choice of imagery leans towards. Masks, the carnival, they are all about new identities, often those that we chose or would like to be rather than how we actually are. In that sense they are false with regards to our actual faces. Surely the drips highlight this through making a point that this is a painting. Also that painting is by nature a fluid thing (drips only making a greater point of that) as is identity and the self.