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Over the last few weeks I’ve spent some happy hours reading the Artists Talking blogs on the a-n website. I’ve been picking a “Choice Blog” for the month, and landed gladly upon David Minton’s Dead and Dying Flowers (see this page here).
Separately, I’ve been struck by the role of the studio in many of the blogs: it appears variously as a place separate from the proper bits of life; the only place where proper life happens; a place where mistakes are allowed and enjoyed; a place where things are still; where things are never still; where things stay and wait until the artist next returns. (Do the things dance around like Woody and Buzz while we’re away, and flop back down in naturalistic poses just as we open the door? Wouldn’t that be nice. Maybe we should spend more time out of our studios to let the artworks play on their owns.)
Imagine the trompe l’oeil covering the front door of Number 298 Park Road, North London. Typical of its genre, the painting exploits existing panelling on the door to lend shadow and weight to the form it depicts. The correlation of forms between the door and the painting is so exact that the painter succeeds with a single pot of gloss paint and a broad brush in creating the effect that the red door is white in colour. A neighbour likes the colour and paints his front door white, and the two look identical. Read the rest of this entry »
Recently I painted some things red.
It began because I wanted there to be more colour around, and so I said I want to paint things. I’d meant I wanted to paint pictures of things, so I could put them on the walls and brighten the room up a bit, but then I noticed the very good ambiguity of the words. You can paint an apple and end up with a picture of an apple, or you can paint an apple and end up with an apple covered in paint.
Either way what you end up with is out of real-world circulation. An apple in a picture is separate from the world because it’s a representation of an apple; an apple painted red is separated from the world because it doesn’t work as a real-world apple any more. Read the rest of this entry »
The things are back where they came from now, only red. There’s a nasty hierarchy now among my things. The painted things indicate the nakedness of all the other things. Are the red things fake, or are they the only things that are real, because they acknowledge themselves? They look smug about it.
I’ve started painting some of the things around the house and when they’re dry I can put them all back where I found them.
I came across this picture today while I was trying to find the painting of Susannah and the Elders Diderot describes in his Salon reports. Jacopo Tintoretto’s version of events is the painting in this photo – it isn’t the one I was looking for, but the photo illustrates very happily my interest in the painting’s surface as a kind of pivot for the beholder’s gaze.
It is that the process of manufacture generates through moves of increasing precision a certain articulate outline, which contains and does not constitute the substance of its object. It is that manufacture contains the lack of its object. It is that the process of manufacturing a utensil differs from the process of using it, and that using also contains the lack of its object. That although they produce and are produced from the same object, the two processes are not symmetrical. That there are similarities nevertheless, because the material qualities of the utensil demand specific sympathies that determine its manipulation.
The work is ongoing, and currently comprises over four thousand near-identical paintings of the same glass of water against the same simple backdrop. The glass is framed identically on each canvas, and variation between paintings is restricted to subtle differences in light and colour that reflect the changing conditions of the studio.
Because it is an ongoing project, the work is continually both complete (all there is so far) and incomplete (there is more to come). This duality means that the point of creation remains present in the paintings as a continuous threat to the integrity of the work. The threat is double: that more paintings will be created, disrupting the present unity of the work; and that no more paintings will be created, disrupting the present continuity of the work. Thus the work is continually on the brink of disintegration, and only as long as it does not disintegrate can it continue reassert its presence. It is a work in the present continuous: it is working.
I’m interested in the way Michael Fried interprets Diderot’s Salon reports of the late eighteenth century. When I first read Fried’s 1980 essay Absorption and Theatricality I was trying to make objects to go in a room and was stirred by Diderot’s imperative:
Whether you compose or act, think no more of the beholder than if he did not exist. Imagine, at the edge of the stage, a high wall that separates you from the orchestra. Act as if the curtain never rose. (p. 95)
More recently I’ve started thinking about Fried’s essay in the context of J.L. Borges’s God of the Labyrinth and John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse. Its thesis is broadly that “Diderot’s conception of painting rested ultimately upon the supreme fiction that the beholder did not exist, that he was not really there, standing before the canvas.” (p.103)
The first few pages of the current Art Monthly are an interview with Martin Creed, who I’ve kept an eye on since he gave a good lecture at Central Saint Martins a few years ago, in which he couldn’t think of anything at all to say.
He explained to David Trigg why he moved away from painting:
One of the problems with painting I always found was the relationship between the painting and the wall – you can’t really see the painting without seeing the wall around it. I couldn’t handle the difference between the object and what’s around it – I don’t know why but I couldn’t. When I stopped painting I tried to make these wall works that solved the problem. One of the ways of solving it was making works that were seamlessly joined with their environment: from the lights going on and off to the door opening and closing, in all of those pieces you can’t say where the work finishes and the rest of the work begins. (AM321:3)
I think not being able to ‘handle the difference between’ things is another way of putting the imperative of indecision I wrote about the other day, which is what I want to get away from. And likewise, Creed goes on to explain why he’s recently begun to work with paint on canvas: