This work was initiated by being asked what I think about when I make a painting.
As with my painting the task was a simple one; to implement a deterministic structure, explore the transformative potential of a medium and see if these texts might act as a parallel to the processes used in my studio practice. Ten quotations taken from an ongoing painting diary have been selected and then each word and punctuation mark paired with its namesake, from books sequentially taken from my bookshelves. The hope was that a dialogue would be set up between each word and the book it is assigned to.
This process has been repeated until all ten quotations have been paired, one word and punctuation mark at a time. Each entry has been assigned a footnote the result of which is ten lists of footnotes that have outgrown their catalyst. The implied source of each word is clearly fictional and far from revealing, and the expectation that one will clarify or explain the other is negated. The notion that the footnote is available as an optional textual citation, providing credit or allowing the reader to explore, is instead placed centre stage. It is no longer there to elaborate but, in the hands of the reader, has become transformed into a source of play, frustration or familiarity. Rather than remaining semi visible or discreet, the numbering in the quotations is so visible that it creates a visual stammer or pause, as if each word is said in isolation separated by a breath. This creates a meter contrary to that of the sentence.
The books were taken in the order they appear on the shelves. This has occasionally resulted in a ‘run’ of a particular author, an effect down to a previous taxonomy or grouping, but not deliberate on my part. Inevitably some words were found quickly and others did not appear in my books at all. Very occasionally a specialist word has occurred exactly where you might expect to find it. Blandness for instance, in the sense that is used by Francois Jullien, was not found anywhere else but in his book on the subject.
The feeling of the process, fluctuated between that of thumbing through old familiar photographs, being reminded of both the contents and at times the place when they were taken, and that of engaging in a ritualised practice, like meditation, where one is delicately poised and easily slips from focus into boredom, or wanders into thought.
Inevitably new books have been added, either purchased or gifts and some leant, but the process has not been engineered to focus the content of the quotations with the books listed. However, over time the quotations have been substituted entirely (but not modified) to suggest a greater association between the structures employed in my painting practice and the structuring of this project.
In response to this, I do regard my painting practice as something akin to a diary. Artist David Connearn says:
“Each time you approach a work, it comes out differently because the circumstances in which you’re doing it, or indeed the person who is doing it, have changed from how they were five minutes ago. The temperature or weather is changing, the way the ink hits the paper, or the absorbency of the paper, is changing. If the activity is sensitive enough, or the tool is unresponsive enough, then all these changes in ambient circumstances will be recorded."1
He refers to external influences but not his own thought processes. I think both play their part, but how they are evident either to myself or the viewer is problematic. Were I even inclined to somehow attribute any particular point in the journey of a work to an external influence, this would be futile, as any description would only mislead or reduce rather than expand the experience. To get around this problem previously, I have shown blank slides in a talk. While describing imagery ranging from descriptions of things I assume to be known in some way, such as Las Meniñas by Velasquez, to descriptions of photographs of fictional family events. In these incidences, once the audience realised this was deliberate and not the result of a technical issue, they were happy to visually create the presentation for themselves from both memory and imagination. This was a strategy wittily employed by the comedian Jackie Vernon in his classic "Vacation Slide Show" Routine. As he described each subsequent event there were no slides for the audience to see, but each announced by a ‘hand-clicker’. Similarly this text and my painting can both operate as a screen, the blankness of which permits projection, placing the work in the hands of the viewer or reader.
Each painting is titled from its start date to completion, such as Jan 07 - Oct 08 (see appendix). In this sense they act as a record or diary of a period of time, but not of a specific day as with the work of On Kawara, but a block or period of time. The activity or intent is to paint one mark after another/find one word after another. This enables a sense of non-involvement or disinterestedness on my part and what Francois Jullien would refer to as blandness. In his book In Praise of Blandness: Proceeding from Chinese Thought and Aesthetics the author states that:
“Blandness: that phase when different flavours no longer stand in opposition to each other but, rather, abide within plenitude. It provides access to the undifferentiated foundation of all things and so is valuable to us; its neutrality manifests the potential inherent in the Center. At this stage, the real is no longer blocked in partial and too obvious manifestations; the concrete becomes discrete, open to transformation.
The blandness of things evokes in us inner detachment. But this quality is also a virtue, especially in our relations with others, because it guarantees authenticity. It must also lie at the root of our personality, for it alone allows us to possesss all aptitudes simultaneously and to summon the appropriate one in any given situation.”2
Both instances, the strict parameters of painting and of this exposition, allow the uncontrolled to happen. The process of repetition leads either to ambiguity or articulation, each variation becoming writ large because of its repetitious nature. This may leave the viewer frustrated, if they want to use this history to develop an understanding of the author (myself). Instead they are left to their own devices, to make associations and connections that say more about their own age, taste and perhaps even prejudice. Here again is where the role of the footnote will either let them down or reinforce these opinions.
While much British abstract painting of the last fifteen years or so has found it sufficient to make explicit a process as an event and explore its relationship with the grid and modernism for example, in my opinion, it has fallen short of ambition by doing precisely what it says on the tin. What of the capacity of a process to go beyond itself? Not just historically or conceptually, but viscerally, to point the viewer at themselves. We have forgotten our bodies and become tools for reflection using only our heads (or perhaps not).
The time taken to produce this exposition has afforded repeated revision of the layout and the decision to place each text separately permitting the reader to navigate and ‘dip in’ to the texts in whatever order they choose, also perhaps giving a formal sense of each entry as poem. There is no linear narrative, no start or end point. I have explored further deviation from the original structure but I feel that the whole hinges so precisely on this, that it would become an entirely different work with the slightest of changes.