With a propensity for lenghty internal monologues, I have come to realize that nothing is new but merely appropriated from something else. There are no new ideas. Although this fact alone may be the source of eternal despair for any creative person, it is both humbling and inspiring. All I can aim to be is a maker - a maker of things; a maker of visual casseroles.
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Tag Archives: painting
Painting is often difficult to talk about. Especially Contemporary Painting.
According to Neil Campbell (an artist, curator and educator at Emily Carr University), painting has the ability to “deliver you to the artist’s mentality.” He offers mentality in the broadest sense, implying the full human spectrum of mind-body-spirit: rational cognition, intuition, emotions, physical rhythms, affects and experiences not necessarily rooted in the verbal (Monika Szewczyk). The activity of Painting can be interpreted as an investigation in mind-expansion.
Thirteen strategies for enjoying Contemporary Painting.
Spend time with it. The average viewer spends less than 20 seconds experiencing a painting. It probably took the artist longer than 20 seconds to make it. You would be doing yourself a great injustice by dismissing it so quickly. Even if did take the artist only 20 seconds to make, this 20 seconds is the product of a lifetime of practice.
Be an active participant. As a viewer, you are responsible for completing the artwork for yourself. What you see and feel are often very different from what you say. Each painting has the unique ability to deliver you to a space that is beyond verbal language. The artist is merely the mediator and the artwork is the backdrop for discovery! There is a subtle intelligence to painting. The maker had an intimate relationship to it, so in experiencing it, you are experiencing yourself.
List of possible questions:
How do I feel when I stand in front of it?
Where does it take me?
What is the artist’s agenda?
Do I care to figure it out?
Can I sense the underlying structure and logic of the system?
How does the scale interact with my body?
What colours and techniques did the artist use?
Is this an illusionary space or a flat surface?
How does the medium describe the ideas inherent to the work?
Is this image a response or reference to something other than itself?
Realize that there are no set meanings in visual art. Many kinds of knowledge cannot be understood by the mind but enter the body in ways we cannot describe with words.
Appreciate that the physical presence of a painting bears weight. For it to exist in public means that it has a presence in the canon of art. Once an artwork leaves the artist’s hands, it takes on a life of its own and now belongs to its audience.
Know that a large part of visual art is Frustration. Anything that is too easily obtained isn’t worth having.
Appreciate that each visual work has its own language. Even though we are all made of the same evolutionary hardware, we are all different and express in different ways. Some people are good with words, others are good with pictures.
Realize that having eyes does not imply knowledge about Visual Art. Sight is more than just owning a pair of eyes.Visual art and music are probably the most readily consumable forms of expression out there because everyone feels entitled to their taste and sense of value. The difference between participating in art and being an art consumer is the amount of time invested and intentions behind the effort. Doctors go to medical school to advance the knowledge of the human body. Scientists devote their lives to research in order to advance our definition of science. Artists go to art school to expand the definition of art and in doing so, growing our awareness of what it means to be human. So to recap, to know something about visual language is more than just consuming with your eyes and knowing how to write a cheque.
Be aware that words like post-modern and contemporary just imply the acceptance of uncertainty, change, possibility and turning inward. Artists working today are concerned with expanding the definition of how painting functions as a medium and how you can re-interpret and re-inhabit this two-dimensional surface without repeating the past, unless doing so intentionally. If all else fails, make fun of yourself.
Know that Visual Art is more than a comparison game. If you hear someone saying, ‘oh my child could have done that,’ the fact is that they didn’t. Art requires creativity and creativity lies in the ability to take an idea and execute it. Everyone can criticize in hindsight, but how many actually follow through with their ideas?
Enjoy the Silence. Silence creates a space for interpretation and growing one’s awareness. Quiet time for yourself means that you are open to inspiration that is everywhere, all the time, available to anyone with an open, untroubled mind. The collected sum of these moments can be defined as one’s sensibilities. What you see in a work of art are the collected sensibilites of an artist’s lifetime of practice and discipline. Children are often more receptive to inspiration. Perception is reception.
Realize that liking and disliking something are relative terms that don’t mean much. If you do not
‘like’ a work of art, could it be that it is simply foreign territory? We tend to be drawn to things that validate our own existence and when something is unfamiliar, it can create an existential crisis.
Be Present. Let go of what you need to do later on and what you’re having for dinner. Your anxiety is not welcome here. Everything is perfect in this moment. Enjoy it!
“Done. Not Done. Might Be Done…” by Adele Weder, Summer 2010, pp. 58-62
Elizabeth McIntosh doesn’t believe in pat endings. On this March morning, the Vancouver artist is addressing the need to finish off a new body of work for a solo exhibition at Toronto’s Diaz Contemporary in May. She’s working on several canvases concurrently, paintings that to a casual observer look ready to go. But they already bear several undercoats of skilfully wrought imagery and might assume several more before they are dubbed finished.
“This one is done,” she pronounces, gesturing toward a huge canvas of yellow stripes swimming in a blue sea. “That one isn’t done,” she says next, pointing to a canvas of finely calibrated coloured squares. “And that one,” she adds, pointing to a third canvas, “that one might be done.”
The question of resolution lies at the heart of McIntosh’s work. The idea of a predetermined end point is antithetical to her method. “I know it’s finished when I sense there’s something new to me,” she says. “It has to be a bit of a surprise, but be compositionally resolved and balanced.” It’s an explanation that allows for an infinite number of possible conclusions.
McIntosh often begins a piece by priming the canvas with a base coat of white or occasionally black gesso, then progressively fills it in with coloured shapes, though every work is different and there is no set process. For one recent painting, she let the canvas lie fallow for a week or more between coats, so that the paint could dry and cure, and so she could reflect on how to proceed. It was a complex and lengthy process, drawn out even further by her frequent pauses to figure out as she went along what hue she should next apply, or reapply, and at what precise angle.
In some compositions she inserts floating rectangles that effectively create additional “paintings within a painting.” For her, the purpose of such a gesture is not to make a statement but to make it ambiguous where the bottom of the painting lies. Once again she’s muddying up the idea of resolution.
She works in oils, which are better suited to conveying depth and gradation of tone than the all-or-nothing opaque plasticity of acrylics. When the canvas is covered, she’ll return to the starting point, and recommence a slow path around the composition, overpainting all the shapes she so carefully rendered the previous week. What she ends up with are stratified paintings, several coats deep, that project sporadic and sometimes ghostly traces of their subcutaneous layers. In this corner, a silvery white looks like a scrim over a shadowy form; in that corner, a pinkish-brown hue brushed roughly over an indigo square reads like a miniature of the northern lights.
The paintings bulge with disarming, intriguing geodesic patterns. Most of them exude not the sharp regularity of hard-edge modernism, but a kind of soft and slightly wonky quality. You think of a handmade quilt, or, as one blogger enthused, crystalline candy.
“What is really intriguing about Elizabeth’s work is the way it blurs this boundary between abstraction and representation,” says Christina Ritchie, director of the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver. “There’s always this sense of permeation going on.” For an upcoming exhibition at the CAG, McIntosh will present a selection of paintings in one large room, and use the other as an architectural container for a huge wall collage. The collage will become both the space and a representation of the space.
This boundary-blurring characterizes her paintings as well. In her studio is a work called Untitled (Table), a 2005 oil on canvas that portrays, or so it seems, a table. Specifically, it is a view of a table’s foreshortened underside as you’d see it when lying splayed out on the kitchen floor after a Saturday night gone awry. Or, from a different mental perspective, it is a purely abstract arrangement of coloured trapezoids and rectangular bands. McIntosh had the concept of a table in mind as she created this painting, though if it started to look too representational to her, she would refine it until it reached a Janus-faced balance, equally figurative and abstract. Some of her friends warned her it was starting to look too much like a table, that she should nudge the work toward pure abstraction, a notion she resists.
“Abstraction is a term that’s outdated,” says McIntosh. “It’s a hundred years old: what does that mean now? I don’t care that they’re ‘pure’ forms in the modernist sense, or whether they have referents. The forms can flip back and forth”—between abstract and figurative evocations—“and it doesn’t matter.”
McIntosh is accumulating a critical mass of attention this year. Her spring show at Diaz will be followed up by one at the Contemporary Art Gallery in November. A monograph from Emily Carr University Press has just been published. The National Gallery of Canada and, more recently, the Art Gallery of Ontario have both acquired her work for their permanent collections. (And, for good measure, so has Belinda Stronach.)
McIntosh has been exhibiting with Diaz Contemporary since its establishment in 2005, but she has been based in Vancouver since Emily Carr University of Art and Design offered her a tenure-track teaching position a few years ago. Her studio is in an industrial neighbourhood not far from the glossy new Olympic Village built for the 2010 Winter Games, and is shared with the artists Elspeth Pratt and Allyson Clay. It’s here that most of the contents of her upcoming exhibitions stand, stored behind walls or hanging and waiting for their next iteration. On this balmy March morning, she is preparing to rework a vast canvas that will be part of the Diaz show.
“I usually don’t measure things,” she allows, stepping up onto a plastic milk crate to assess her work-in-progress at close range. It’s a patchwork grid of gemstone hues and little regularity. “I want it to be wonky but it’s kind of gone too wonky. So I’m squaring part of it,” she explains. “I’m making some lines perfectly straight, so the wonky ones look obviously wonky, not like they’re slipping off the stretcher.”
With a white pencil crayon she marks up new edge positions for some of the squares, then spends the next few hours meticulously painting over the beautifully rendered grid of colours. Square by square, the first composition vanishes under sheaths of new pigment—it’s discomfiting to watch. But what begins to emerge promises to be even richer, embedded with streaks and residual brush strokes and other vestiges of the understory. And the composition will have a bedrock of regular shapes to support the irregular shapes within.
For McIntosh, art in general—and painting in particular—crept up on her from behind. Art was the family business; as a typical adolescent growing up in Simcoe, Ontario, she had no initial interest in entering it. When she was in her late teens, her mother, the artist Ellen McIntosh-Green, urged her to take a week-long painting workshop held in the surrounding countryside. She started painting and on the first day found, to her surprise, that she liked it. For the rest of the week, she painted past the scheduled finishing time, until the instructor gently and then firmly ordered her to pack up for the day. She has been painting relentlessly ever since.
As a student at Toronto’s York University in the 1990s, she found that painting was marginalized and considered a near-obsolete practice. Deferring to academic fashion, she created a series of performance-art pieces. Most were language-based, but others were cacophonous audio events incorporating ghetto blasters, tape recordings of clattering typists and an assistant who would improvise a knitting job with cassette tape. She trenchantly recalls how one prominent faculty member was quick to dub McIntosh’s performance art her “real work” and her painting a “sideline.”
The performances were popular—York provided a ready-made audience— but McIntosh found performance art nerve-racking. “It’s dependent on a venue and an audience,” she points out. “But I like the solitary nature of painting. So I thought: do I want to spend the rest of my life doing this? Or return to what I really like doing: painting in my studio?” When she stopped doing performance art to concentrate on painting, two other students—the class stars, as it happened—made their disappointment known. As McIntosh puts it, “They expressed outrage. They thought my paintings were meaningless.”
After York, McIntosh co-founded an artists’ collective called Painting Disorders, which also included Marc Bell, Angela Leach, Sally Späth, Eric Glavin and Nestor Krüger. In some ways, it was a typical art collective, consisting of members with similar interests and proclivities and providing a tight knot of mutual support. But it was also something of a tongue-in-cheek manifesto, allows McIntosh. Just as something as basic and primordial as eating could be pathologized, so could painting. “We were working in an environment that wasn’t seen as painter-friendly, where it was seen as a kind of disorder,” she explains.
In the mid-1990s, the master’s program she entered at Chelsea College of Art and Design in London, England, offered her carte blanche to explore any form of art she wanted to. With little formal structure and less pressure to conform to any one paradigm of practice, she devoted herself exclusively to painting. The artistic freedom was exhilarating, even though she had to peddle sandwiches in office towers every morning to afford the luxury of painting in the afternoons. While artistically emancipated by Chelsea, she couldn’t find a way to legally stay in the country and support herself, and returned to Canada in 1998.
Back at her Vancouver studio, she opens her laptop to show me a file of aphorisms on art, zeroing in on a statement made by Donald Judd in his 1965 essay “Specific Objects”: The main thing wrong with painting is that it is a rectangular plane placed flat against the wall. A rectangle is a shape itself; it is obviously the whole shape; it determines and limits the arrangement of whatever is on or inside of it.
McIntosh takes up the challenge. While Judd considers “actual space” to be “intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface,” McIntosh does not. “My view is that the rectangle of a canvas is an indefinite expanse,” she says. Like the concept of a finite universe, a fixed twodimensional space can be infinitely reworked, revisited and repopulated.
Her intuitive approach is the conceptual opposite of a research-based, heavily planned and precisely executed process. She works without a plan or script or theory, and the results exude no particular social or political exhortations. But her open-ended, literally self-effacing process comes at a price in terms of public acceptance, she feels. “People generally respect those who are really sure of what they’re going to do, because that sureness makes them feel comfortable,” she contends.
The scripted performance, the planned installation: these are sure things—preordained phenomena, once you’ve crafted the idea. But, says McIntosh in a conversation about teaching and students, “It’s not that hard to have a good idea.” With painting, on the other hand, “it takes years to slowly master the medium.”
And even once mastered, the medium isn’t conducive to broadcasting a message. “I don’t even attempt that,” she tells me. “Painting is a very clumsy way to go about things if you’re trying to say something direct. It’s not didactic. It’s not direct.”
Then she adds, by way of conclusion: “That’s the beauty of it.”
See other works by Elizabeth McIntosh at canadianart.ca/mcintosh
“ascetic” (adj.) derives from the ancient Greek term askēsis (practice, training or exercise).
Originally associated with any form of disciplined practice, the term ascetic has come to mean anyone who practices a renunciation of worldly pursuits to achieve higher intellectual and spiritual goals for himself or herself.
Lecture at Cornell University – Agnes Martin
I want to talk to you about “the work”, art work.
I will speak of inspiration, the studio, viewing art work, friends of art, and artists’ temperaments.
But your interest and mine is really “the work” – works of art.
Art work is very important in the way that I will try to show when I speak about inspiration.
I have sometimes put myself ahead of my work in my mind and have suffered in consequence.
I thought me, me; and I suffered.
I thought I was important. I was taught to think that. I was taught: “You are important; people are important beyond anything else.”
But thinking that I suffered very much.
I thought that I was big and “the work” was small. It is not possible to go on that way. To think I am big is the work is big.
The position of pride is not possible either.
And to think I am small and the work is small, the position of modesty, is not possible.
I will go on to inspiration and perhaps you will see what is possible.
As I describe inspiration I do not want you to think I am speaking of religion.
That which takes us by surprise – moments of happiness – that is inspiration. Inspiration which is different from daily care.
Many people as adults are so startled by inspiration which is different from daily care that they think they are unique in having had it. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Inspiration is there all the time.
For everyone whose mind is not clouded over with thoughts whether they realize it or not.
Most people have no realization whatever of the moments in which they are inspired.
It’s a peaceful thing.
It is a consolation even to plants and animals.
Do not think that it is unique.
If it were unique no one would be able to respond to your work.
Do not think it is reserved for a few or anything like that.
It is an untroubled mind.
Of course we know that an untroubled state of mind cannot last. So we say that inspiration comes and goes but really it is there all the time waiting for us to be untroubled again. We can therefore say that it is pervasive. Young children are more untroubled than adults and have many more inspirations. All the moments of inspiration added together make what we call sensibility. The development of sensibility is the most important thing for children and adults but is much more possible in children. In adults it would be more accurate to say that the awakening to their sensibility is the most important thing. Some parents put the development of social mores ahead of aesthetic development. Small children are taken to the park for social play; sent to nursery school and headstart. But the little child sitting alone, perhaps even neglected and forgotten, is the one open to inspiration and the development of sensibility.
Matthew Ritchie’s work describes the formation of the universe and deals explicitly with the idea of information being “on the surface.” Although often described as a painter, Ritchie creates works on paper, lenticular prints, large-scale installations, freestanding sculpture, web sites, and short stories which tie his sprawling works together into a narrative structure.
Matthew Ritchie is featured in the Season 3 episode “Structures” of the Art21 series “Art:21 — Art in the Twenty-First Century”.
“What a funny thing painting is. The abstract painters always insist on their connection with the visible reality, while the so called figurative artists insist that what they really care about, is the abstract qualities of life.”
– Marlene Dumas on painting
Melusine Devouring Her Offspring
It is so intoxicating. I just needed a drag to finish it off.
Are you calling me swine?
The Truth Has Yet To Be Created
How great would it be if you could order whatever you wanted from a single catalogue, whether it be your very own clone, a customized deep-sea fish, a device to let you see with your tongue or even your choice of a cuddly creature in a jar.