Analyses of my art practice
After 2 years of studying Fine Art MFA at the Wimbledon College of Art, I feel that my artistic practice is in a very strong position. It is fed by two main components, my research question and my process. My research question is to ask whether perceived perfection in art and in life is just an illusion and does not exist, especially when you consider how our eyes and brains function. My process is focused on using methods, sometimes unsophisticated, that involve my direct engagement with my materials to find alternative and interesting ways to paint and draw. If either the components above stagnates, then the other can take up the slack.
‘’The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real.’’ ― Lucian Freud
Once the figure was gone from my work, the layers of patterns I had been using as backgrounds began to become the subject. To try and understand further how the eye and brain worked, and what it was I was seeing, I began to read scientific books such as The Mechanics of the Mind by Colin Blackemore, Mirrors in Mind by Richard Gregory and Phenomenology of Perception by Maurice Merleau-Ponty.
Reading Richard Gregory’s book the Eye and Brain, the psychology of seeing taught me how the eye and the brain never rests, instead they are always seeking objects and finding them. All we have to do as artists is present a few lines and we see a face, a car or a tree; but sometimes the objects are not there, like faces in the fire or the man on the moon.
I started to consider whether hallucinations/illusions were caused when our brain and eye come to the wrong conclusions, like a computer that does not compute. I started questioning what I was seeing, when I was seeing it and how I was seeing it. I suddenly questioned things I had always taken for granted and felt more comfortable in describing things in a new visual vocabulary I was developing.
A couple of years ago I made a peg board for steaming wood into particular shapes. I made it quite carelessly and quickly, drilled a series of holes into an inaccurate but functional grid shape. What I noticed as I spent a lot of time around it was that after time I stopped noticing the imperfections of the peg placements and it soon seemed to me that it was accurate, even perfect.
I now realise that the brain will re-align things into a perfect grid or a perceived perfect grid, even when things are misaligned. The brain searches for order and understanding. The eye and brain are not accurate but are the best possible reasoning given the available data. I want to see how, as an artist, I could control this data and that the accuracies or inaccuracies in my work could be used as a language. With this new language I want to discuss how and why we look at art and how does the brain react when it is given something familiar, in an unfamiliar way, or when it is presented with something that is logical but not accurate.
‘’The 'how' has a great effect on what we see. To say that 'what we see' is more important than 'how we see it' is to think that 'how' has been settled and fixed. When you realize this is not the case, you realize that 'how' often affects 'what' we see. '‘― David Hockney
To best explain the development of my practice, I must go back to when I arrived in London at the start of the course. As I have always done when in a new environment, I began walking, observing and drawing. I became interested in the expansion of public and private art collections and the way they have changed and impacted on our lives. I wanted to tell stories about this in the short hand of imagery that could even have been considered classical cartoons in the high art sense (see slide show to left).
While observing my subjects through drawing I began to notice a blurring and melding effect on my surroundings. This first happened when I was in a secluded confined space observing a subject in the far distance. When I suddenly switched my gaze from my drawing material to the subject, I began to see my environment in a mix of patterns, colours, shades, layers and shapes. I started to explore what I was seeing and began to see a kind of inaccurate order in everything. These began to become the backgrounds for my drawings, a way of combining two versions of a reality in one piece. These patterns soon became the main focus of my work. Below you can see a selection of artists I looked at who use what I would call a simplified language in their work.
‘’Because of the finite velocity of light, and the delay in our nervous messages reaching our brain-we only ever see the past.’’ ― R.L. Gregory, Eye and Brain, the psychology of seeing
‘’The eye altering, alters all’’ ― the mental traveller by William Blake
As light travels through glass or water, it is slowed down so layers slow down our perception. As I use many layers in my work, I began to think differently on the effect they have on the viewer. I started to see each layer as a person, a time, a place or an event and realised each layer only had meaning because of the layer that had gone before it. Everything is a reaction to what has gone before it.
There is only a very narrow band of frequencies that allow us to see, so in a way we are all very nearly blind. Like sound, colours have different wavelengths. For example, blue is 1/70,000 and red is 1/40,000. So our brains are in a way coded like modern technology with different codes for colours, smell and sounds. My layers and shapes are in a way my way of coding what I see and I think it is thanks to my research into science aswell as art that I can read/understand my work in a broader sense than before. I see it as a combination of science, the physical, the metaphysical, the visual and the conceptual.
the necker way
My work is very meta as it is discussing painting through painting. The process is the subject which means I am often perpetuating the exact thing I am discussing and so need to be very consious of how I work, the standard it will be perceived at and the mistakes I leave in.
I have always been interested in understanding process and technique. I have experimented extensively with different methods of making my own gesso and tempera and I have tried out varieties of painting mediums to see what effects I could get with layering paints. A couple of years ago I read The Materials of the Artist and Their Use in Painting: With Notes on the Techniques of the Old Masters by Max Doerner and in the Summer, I was reading Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters by David Hockney. These books highlighted the fact to me that artists have always used any available technological or scientific technique to attain their goals.
prime, first layer stripe one, firsts layer strip two, second layer strip one, second layer strip two, third layer stripe one, finish
I am not loyal to the initial idea I start a painting with as I see these works as constructions rather than manipulated forms or reproductions. Sometimes I reach a conclusion more quickly than expected like the painting lucky or substantial waste and sometimes it becomes an exercise in trial and error like the painting three times a failure. As I am working within the traditional constraints of the landscape and portrait format, I initially want the viewer to stand back and read the work as a composition. I then want to invite them to stand closer and inspect my work. When possible I would like to add a third element to the viewers experience by engaging with the enviroment or collaborating with another artist as it is being installed.
Like the necker cube, I wanted the viewer to experience my work in two ways. Either focusing on the foreground or the background. Thinking about this idea further, I started to imagine the viewer experiencing my work externally and internally. For example, if you experience a room externally as in seeing it through a window-pane with diminished sound and vision, things become phantom-like, as if beyond. But as soon as you step inside the room you become an active part of this reality, experiencing it with all your senses. I had this in mind when I was painting the pieces internally and beyond below.
I have always been interested in the inaccuracies that can be found in art works, especially in work that is perceived as being of a high technical standard. What is perfection? Does it exist and why does are mind seem to be searching for it constantly. Is chaos too chaotic for our minds to deal with?
Last year when I saw the Patrick Caulfield and Gary Hume show at the Tate Britain I was surprised how Caulfield's reputation as as an amazing technical painter seemed a little exagerated to me when I saw them in real life. The lines were often interupted because the masking tape had not been rubbed down properly and some of the details in works such as After Lunch seemed sterile and too much like painting by numbers. Gary Humes work on the other hand was much more fluid and natural feeling. He was using a simpified language but up close his textures felt organic and somehow more real.
I am conscious how technology has changed the way we perceive art. As we often see images online, on screens or in reproductions in books or magazines. When we finally see the hand made marks of the work in real life we often find ourselves surprised how human and imperfect they can be.
Recently I have found myself searching for ways of making lines and shapes that embraces imperfection rather than fights it. For example, in my painting parabola arch, I painted an inaccurate grid and then over that I painted areas that I marked out using string to create a series of arches. Also, I have been using paper cut-outs as well to arrange and rearrange shapes in paintings such as necker connects and three times a failure. When I am cutting out these shapes, they are the best attempt at capturing and repeating the shapes I want.
Last year I experimented with a technique of pre-setting instructions to make the painting and then using these instructions as the title. This is how I made prime, first layer stripe one, first layer strip two, second layer strip one, second layer strip two, third layer stripe one, finish.
Recently I saw some of Howard Hodkins work in person and was very intrigued by the slight suggestion of traditional painting he sometimes has in his work. I like the idea of sometimes referencing classical European painting by the technique and style I use and this is what I was attempting in my piece classical intuition.
a right angle in nature
three times a failure
Often my ideas for colour come from trends I see in the art world. Also I like to note how these trends have bled into the design world and are present in the print media, advertising and clothing. I like the idea of taking inspiration from colours that has been influenced by the art world and then return it to the art world.
I need to take my time when selecting colours and often spend hours mulling over the first layer in a painting. This is because I often treat painting like a game of chess. The first move effects all the rest so I need to think hard how that first colour will enhance, kill, sharpen or dull latter colours.
In the end, I want the viewer to bring their own experience to my work. To sense something and to want to look longer. I think the exciting thing about looking at art is when you are not quite sure what is going on and there is a strong sense of mystery. For that reason, I hope that in the this analysis of my practice that I have explained my work adequately but more importantly that I haven't explained it too adequately.