Can you tell me about your practice? How do you get started on a piece of work?
As soon as I’ve primed my canvas I get an urge to throw watery polymer paint at it. These early sweeping gestures are one of the most pleasurable parts of the process; they feel free as I know I can easily paint gesso back over the top if I make a mistake.
Once I have developed some areas of the painting to a point I’m happy with I consider where I can add some of my shapes. Taped up around my studio are lots of drawings I’ve made from memory of elements of landscapes that I’ve known. I draw them in a loose unconscious way akin to an ‘automatic’ drawing technique. I then use these forms instinctively during the painting process, picking them up as and when I need them. I try to keep this dichotomy between the spontaneous gesture and the crafted/ predawn
element in tension throughout the painting process.
The more I make work and look at other people’s paintings the more I realise how painting has a unique potential to foreground these issues of improvisation and response.
Who or what are your biggest influences?
An artist who left a big impression on me is Forrest Bess. He was an American painter making work in an isolated fishing community in North Carolina in the 1950s. His paintings are often quite minimal, sometimes consisting of just a few brush strokes and a scrape of his pallet knife, and yet they are packed with personal meaning. His work showed me the importance of cultivating a mental world of imagery and trusting that it will make its way into the painting as long as you keep showing up and moving paint around on the canvas.
Another artist whose work I only came across recently, just before he died, is Peter Griffin. I am drawn to his work for similar reasons to Bess. He developed a unique personal iconography of part mythical, part quotidian symbols and, through processes of drawing and redrawing, developed inventive, trademark techniques: assemblages of wiry lines, dot-dash seas, block heads devoid of features. Both artist’s work glimmer with a sense of the subconscious chewing over the experience of the world.
Your work embraces abstraction yet the titles of your work often suggest hidden narrative, can you tell us about this, is there any tension between the two?
Although my work is abstract the shapes I use often seem to be building or dismantling themselves, as if in a constant state of trying to construct a symbolic meaning. Sometimes I like to attach bright neon gestures onto the shapes as if I’m adding punctuation or attaching an accent to a word. Because of this connection between painting and language in my work, it seemed appropriate for me to use the titles to try to add further sense, even if it remains at the level of allusion. I keep a title list and am always jotting down words or partial ideas that interest me. It is often about trying to add a mood or suggest a partial interpretation for example with Winter Woods or Wounded Flowers.
How important is the choice of material in relation to realizing the concept of your work?
During the last year or so I started using my whole body in the gestures that I apply to the canvas and this caused me to reexamine the materials I use to fit this new way of working. I started mixing dried paint, marble dust and.other materials into the paint and used heavy duty application techniques to swipe and scrape them into the linen surface. Punctures and scars in the under-paintings and thick flicks of paint build up to form a multilayered crust on the surface.
The initial sweeping gestures of watery polymer paint that I apply in the first stages of the process can often be seen poking through in the background. The contrast between this watery paint and the thicker materials, along with other differences in gesture and translucency, conjure up an idea of a catalogue of styles to be drawn from. The idea of alluding to the history of abstract painting as a catalogue of styles is something I’d like to play more with in the future.
What is your most important tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
I’ve started stretching a layer of tight polyester behind the linen I use to paint on. This prevents the linen, which sags, from hitting into the stretcher bars when I paint and leaving an imprint. Now I can attack the canvas without having to fix it up afterwards.
My other recent discovery is the electric stapler. If you stretch your own canvases pretty soon your thumbs start aching all the time. The electric stapler halves the work and sorts out this problem.
Can you give us a book recommendation that has been important in your practice? And tell us why it’s important.
Snow Country, a novel by Yasunari Kawabata, had a significant impact on me. There are lots of things that are interesting about the way it’s written including its eschewing of standard narrative structure. But something that is particularly relevant to my work is Kawabata’s tendency to repeat and subtly alter a small group of key images throughout the book. In the first scene the protagonist spends a train journey looking at the reflection of a woman’s face in the window as the landscape rushes through it. Later in the book, when he watches snow falling from his hotel window or looks at the reflections of a Geisha in the mirror, flashes of this original train window scene break through into the text. Kawabata is using this device to draw connections between different moments in time and to reflect on the workings of involuntary memory. The book gives a strong sense that subterranean unconscious processes are at work.
In my own work I like to use the devices of repetition and alteration. I often return to forms from earlier paintings, redrawing them so that they mutate from painting to painting. I want the shapes to take on a life of their own and become detached from the original referent by gradually denting and morphing into something new. For this reason I’m always interested by the use of repetition in other art forms.
Finally, is there anything new coming up that you would like to tell us about?
Having been limited to participating in online exhibitions during the recent lockdowns, I’m looking forward to showing my recent work in real life physical exhibitions. I will be in a group show called Dreamland with OHSH projects in November and I’m hoping to co-curate a show called the Greenness of the Green Fields Supernal in 2022. More details about the dates and locations of those projects will appear on my website soon.
Wounded Flowers, Oil, polymer and gesso on linen, 160 x 480 cm, 2021
First We Feel Then We Fall, Oil and mixed media on linen, 190 x 160 cm, 2020
Palm of the Hand Painting III, Oil on linen, 20 x 25 cm, 2020
Landform, Object, Spill, Oil, polymer and gesso on linen, 210 x 175 cm, 2021
Flanked, Oil and mixed media on linen, 160 x 130 cm, 2020
New Forces Knocking, Oil and mixed media on linen, 210 x 175 cm, 2020