This exhibition of paintings represents the work that I have made over the last 18 months. Apart from giving my back a holiday from sculpture, I have been wanting to do this work for some time. Also I did not want to make any more sculpture until I had found a home for my perhaps over ambitious 'Paul's Tower'.
Paul's Tower, 1999
The work in this exhibition, like in several previous shows, divides into several parts. Rather than presenting a synthesized body of work that is readily digested by the viewer, I am simply showing the work that my searches have uncovered.
Over this relatively short period I have found an increasing facility (in my mind), with painting. Recently the paint has begun to flow. Paintings have started to grow and unfold, rather than earlier, when each footstep was preceded by a stumble. Falling out of any easy-going process can be unsatisfying and difficult. From experience I knew, however, that what I was feeling had little bearing on the relative value of the work. Time and distance would show which works had the greatest merits.
I am showing here therefore the full scope of these trials and pleasures. I started off where my portrait of Stephen Mori had taken me. Working with a very restricted palette into wet enamel paint, I was trying to eliminate options of colour and time that I felt would be more confusing than liberating. The enamel was worked in small areas. You have got so much time to model up the form before it goes off. You accept what you get and build onto that. The outcome is the filled space. These works delivered surprising results; the process presented no venue for 'design'.
Sooner or later, however, I knew that I would have to impose myself into the works more assertively. I broadened my palette a bit, and started to rework the paintings. With 'The Crit' I introduced, or reintroduced the more sculptural panel juggling method of painting where I had the ability to change the painting radically by altering the relationship of panels and then doing more painting. Whatever the outcome of the portrait of Ron and Paul, which is yet to be submitted to The Archibald, this method of working took me into a different kind of pictorial space, which I had not encountered previously.
'The Dining Room' carried this process a step further by adding colour, 'processed paint' and taste breakdown. In it I have given no space for my own predilections. The final picture subverts the original pleasures in the initial cartoon. The unifying aspect is the variety of painterly approaches taken. This painting is either tough or self-conscious; while the jury is out I include it here.
There are several pictures then where I thought I was bringing all the strands into one healthy, integrated whole. 'Winter Night' has it all. It is open, varied, textured, coloured. It was everything except painted. With increasing confidence and facility we can be either maimed or fortified. With 'Reclining Couple', I dared to conceive a composition, to willfully build a unified space by standing back to look!
Inevitably after all of the speculations about how to go about the act of painting, we come back to the bare bones, the nuts and bolts. In the last works, I have stopped playing games. Most recently I have abandoned the multi-panel. Paintings are freestanding and self-contained. I am daring to do a painting, which is bound by its silly limits, to sit prettily on some wall somewhere. It is not formally adventurous; it is not sophisticated. Can I do a painting that does not mock itself by its smug self-contained-ness? Can I do a painting that is free from irony? Can I do a painting that suggests that painting can with a clean conscience, be executed?
So now, having painted the show and articulating all of the above, it is either the time to start properly or to stop. Circumstance always plays the final hand. I have a sculpture commission to make.
I present this work as a record of my recent journey into painting. Why the figure? When you can draw the figure, the pleasure of the alchemy is irresistible. When you discover that you can build a space that can accommodate a number of figures doing stuff, then that pleasure is amplified. When you put people together in the same space, you are talking psychology and politics. When you are not selling ideology or religion, then you are talking untapped power.
This is the pull.