Friday, 19 November 2010

Finish It

The eternal Artist's Dilemma is: How do you know when a painting is finished? It's something that I've dissected a lot recently, as I try to finish 3 troublesome paintings, and prepare to start a large commission. In trying to assess whether a painting works (for me), I take into account a number of factors:
  • Does it bounce back to me something of the original intent and emotion - especially important when a painting starts from a word or experience.
  • Do the colours work all across the painting, not just in sweet, tempting little pockets?
  • Have I in some way gone beyond the original idea?
  • Have I created a self-contained world?
This painting took a long time to finish. It was inspired by the vibrant memory of Spring trees seen on a daily car journey. One morning I said to myself that the passages of colours were so sumptuous that I wanted to dive into them! I began painting in a burst of energy. Once I start and colours are painted on, wiped off, gouged, knifed, stroked on, swiped on, I find that it is indeed like swimming across a tapesty of essences and meanings. They keep coming into focus - then a slash with the palette knife, a sweep with a loaded brush, and they slip out of focus.
For me, painting is life splattered across a surface, my breathing, feeling, movement pressed and encapsulated into brushstrokes. I have to excavate the image from the paint, and to re-experience my lived experience......incidents, events, relationships made and broken, redefined, a change of mind, all the time surfing on edges, textures, bursts of time and colour.
In the end it's that indefinable something that either lets the painting stand or fall. 'Finished ' can be some sudden flourishes of last minute indecision. Searching and finding are the sirens that call me back to paint over and over again.
And then you simply hope that it may meet some recognition in someone else.
('Diving Into Green.' Oil and acrylic, 91cms by 61cms)

Monday, 1 November 2010

Goats and Celery

October 14th Thursday.
The Frieze Art Fair takes place over 5 days in October and features over 170 galleries from around the world. This year it was on my calendar as a must-see. A queue of shivering, cloaked forms stretched beyond the huge tents in Regents Park towards a hazy infinity. Yellow and gold foliage flickered in the breezes, and someone shouted out, 'There's the Mayor of London arriving on his motorcycle!' The art critic Matthew Collings drifted by as I wondered if I'd ever reach the entrance.
Once inside the biggest tent I'd ever seen, the sense of excitement was infectious. Galleries had carved the massive space into pristine white cubicles. Each space had its own identity and I struggled against determined spectators to see the wares on display. The gallery representatives all looked so young and model-like and were worthy of being exhibits themselves. I checked around for the artists. These were the Sacred Ones, the cream of gallery artists, and I thought if I looked hard I might learn their secrets. Is there a gallery Circuit you can get on, how do you get on it, and once there, how hard is it to keep your footing?
I saw some wonderful Picasso drawings, some work by famous artists (Chris Ofili, Damien Hirst) and a fair amount of what I felt was rather cliched, sensation-grabbing stuff (a line of pornographic magazines laid across a table top). A couple of large paintings took my breath away. I handed out a few postcards of my own paintings just for the hell of it. And then reached overload, when it all spun in my mind and suddenly had no meaning!
There's so much media attention around Frieze, and the accompanying parties and bright young stars. It's like the Oscars of the Art World. But under it all, of course, is money and money-making on a huge scale. It's all about marketing - smart, relentless, fastidiouslessly planned marketing. That stark aspect stayed with me after the images faded.
So much of it comes down to fitting the current trends, and having something extra that allows you to be marketed as a brand. I used to think it was only to do with quality, but it's far more complex than that. It seems to me that artists now have to plan their careers like a game of chess. And what if your work is simply not marketable? Sometimes there is no reason why one thing sells over another, though names can be made by the big galleries. And broken.
I have a wide circle of artist friends. Some make a living from their work, some sell intermittently. One said to me recently, 'See your work as a commodity, like goats and celery at the market. You have to detach yourself emotionally when you finish a painting, and if it doesn't sell, just make another!'
('Chances.' Oil and acrylic. 70cm x 49cm)