Exploring Theory and Practice MA Contemporary Art Practice

Exploration of Process

What I intended to paint and what I actually painted were two different things entirely.

Following a tutorial where part of the discussion was around whether introducing an image or object created a narrative or whether we attributed a narrative to it; I began to ask other questions during my practice.

A return to the source

I was exploring the idea and process of abstract and figurative work. Initially I started questioning the way in which paint was applied. In an attempt to vary the tools of application, I downed traditional tools (brushes) and took up others including; screwed up foil, recycled plastic, old clothes, and board to squeegee on paint (part of the printmaking process). Some of these were the source materials I had used for paper making in the last two semesters.

The way in which paint was applied to create the abstraction, with systems of both chance and intention both fascinated me and sparked my imagination. Where does one end and the other begin? As my practice expanded its boundaries; this was a development point I was keen to pursue and perhaps combine the two.

Note written to myself whilst in the studio

Could work be both abstract and figurative? I had worked recently in an abstract vein yet previously figurative work made up the main body of focus.

Considering the merging of fields or the seperation. The idea of a figure on a back / middle gound that was abstracted began to emerge; the two worlds colliding or justaposed.

In the article by Stanley Marcus for American Artist(1997) Combining abstract art and figurative imagery . The American visionary artist Sheila Isham describes herself:

” I’ve continually been on the cusp between realism and abstraction.”

(Marcus 1997)

Interestingly in the 2004 exhibition Sheila Isham: 50 Years of Creating , at St Michael’s Castle, the  State Russian Museum St Petersburg. Her body of work is described as ‘abstract’. which it broadly is yet has figurative dimensions to it as described by art critic M.J.Link:

Such figures are reminiscent of shadows recalled from our ancient collective subconscious and caught in an ongoing hallucination where they exist in a bizarre suspension between reality and dreams.

(Link, 2019)

The concept of being in a state between linked back to the idea of the viewer and the artwork; the ascribed meaning or felt experience and the significance (if any) for the creative.

Can we create this state by combining the two fields and blurring the edges between them?

Could this then be a contemporising of the mystical?

In this sense it could be related to the otherness of art. the transcendent space we try and define in words. Is it a wordless experience rather than an academic one to be deconstructed? Does this process elevate or destroy the meaning or experience? Are all artists visionaries; expressing that which is hidden?

There could be said to be a mystical element to all artwork without accompanying text. It is then the communion or direct experience of the viewer with the artwork that bears fruit. On the one hand the artist may prefer the work to be inexplicable or unexplained; on the other hand they may prefer to elucidate, deepen our knowledge and experience of the work through rendering it finite by means of an explanation.

Now, where I began and where I finished were two very different places. When I began to paint (applying straight from the tube and creating an abstract surface). The figure that I originally sketched out , taken from a family photo of Greenham Common started to morph and change. It became a reverse. Instead of looking outwards it looked within the painting.

snapshot of original paint sketch on canvas

It began to take on a life of its own and I allowed it to emerge. Reflecting back at this point on the process: in some ways, the previous small studies were like a freeing up; an idiosyncratic warm-up exercise for this bigger piece. Additionally, this was a purposeful way of ridding myself of the initial ‘blank canvas fear’, beginning with an explosion of colour and creating something to work with and subsequently react artistically to. I was engaging more with the elusive feeling rather than the outcome which had previously driven me.

The Gaps between the Stories

The gaps between the stories

We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us freedom.

We lived in the gaps between the stories

(Atwood, 2012, p57)

As the work was emerging and evolving I was reading the Handmaid’s tale by Margaret Atwood. The above quote leapt out of the book at me. I had been exploring the potential of figurative and abstract whilst questioning the limits of a narrative. Here were five words that seemed to capture the essence of what I was aiming to distill into paint. I used them around the edge of the painting. Perhaps a title; perhaps a meaning; perhaps a question.

Golden Apple

(Taken from The song of Wandering Angus)

Though I am old with wandering

Through hollow lands and hilly lands,

I will find out where she has gone,

And kiss her lips and take her hands;

And walk amongst long dappled grass,

And pluck till time and times are done

The silver apples of the moon,

the golden apples of the sun

W.B. Yeats

(Yeats and Webb, 2000 , p45)

I continued with the same strong yet limited palette as a link and developed my own visual language ( some of which was hidden below the hem of the cloaked figure. Using literature as a source and connection was a natural progression for me – it was also my academic background.

Poetry deals in essences as does painting

Yeats’ poetry draws on and reweaves Irish history, legend, and literature with threads of gold. On an ancestral level his subjects at times connected to my own Celtic lineage . Cailte is the Irish version of my surname and is the warrior and stoyteller of the Fenian cycle in Irish mythology from which my family traditionally claim descent.

These strands are able to be both universal and personal at the same time. A tantalising segment of words. The edges of meaning.

The Deep Heart’s Core

Taken from The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

W.B. Yeats

(Yeats and Webb, 2000 , p29)

This poem spoke to me of resonance, longing, and connection to a place remembered, a decision and an impending journey. The profound inner feeling of awakening and inner compulsion. As the paintings emerged, they appeared to be connected through subject, colour and diminishing fields. The idea of three starting with a large canvas in sequence flowing to a medium and then a small one formed as the work developed. An arrowhead of paintings

A non-traditional triptych

Visual poetry, essences and images.

Glimpses of something personal and universal.

Something other.

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