I make paintings of unreal, abstracted, figures and faces. Their embodiment in paint is their very essence, as no such beings would exist, made up as they are of spills and swirls of paint, veiled layers, illusory droplets of light, and gestural abstract passages. Conjured using an array of techniques, in their undoing and their coming together, they’re works that revel in their artificiality.
Recent paintings are of swimmers and divers ambiguous in their plight, immersed in a tangle of painterly gestures and washes. The dream subjects of water and falling, so aligned with the subconscious, are an ideal place to explore selfhood. In one work, a swimmer is seemingly disoriented as the reflection of the moon improbably bisects her advance towards the horizon. The reflection, that historically has been used to point the viewer out like a needle, asserting their presence (as in Munch’s reflections of the setting sun), here is off-kilter, perpendicular to its traditional position. The figure in the painting and the viewer are both deliberately dislocated by the composition.
A key line of thought is how notions of self are manifested in painting – imbued in gesture and brushwork, self-portraiture, signature style, and from the viewer’s perspective, the act of looking. On the basis that the self is a fragile and temporary construct, I seek to explore its transience by manipulating motifs that we sometimes take for granted. For instance, in certain works the painterly gesture, a hallmark of authorship, is harnessed and honed then rendered flat and illusory, a distancing of the painter’s touch. In other passages, I smuggle in slights of hand – there are fragments that look like afterimages, hallucinatory imprints on the retina, which come to hover over the painting. These destabalising mechanisms are used to impart a skepticism and deliberate uncertainty to the work that reflects a wider philosophical stance.
The studio is an expanded sketchbook. Material from different mediums and sources is introduced, contemplated on, combined, moved around, re-worked, cut in half and made afresh. It’s a busy space that changes and evolves day by day. I draw, collage, make monotype prints, marble, sketch on my phone and synthesise with Photoshop. All of this informs the paintings, which start out with varying degrees of preparation and intent. Typically they’ll be a number of works in progress at any one time, and I often skip between them in a day, from palette to palette, charcoal to digital sketch. The works borrow from each other as motifs and ideas migrate between, creating a dynamic interplay of thought and form. No overt source material is used, but the works reflect on the history of figurative and abstract painting, incorporating fragments and references.
Like modernists before me, I’m seeking what is fundamental in painting, but just under different circumstances. The question of ‘what can it do now that’s unique?’ is pertinent. The answer is multiple – it’s a slow medium, slower than the world often wants it to be; it’s flat (still), but has the possibility to be scintillating and shifting; it’s a one-off; it’s ‘materially present’; and of course has a particular and deep history. It also has the potential to be tangential to the fast and dematerialised image economy of today’s digital world. The work reflects on these specifics. But there’s also a distinctiveness in being an artist today. The ambitious artist understands the world’s mechanisms and drives, soaks it all up, and then importantly, reacts intelligently and emotionally to the vast stimuli, processing it all into images, through materials, and outputting meaningful content – though it may be biased, partial and imperfect content.