Tuesday, February 26, 2008

My painting cont'd XV

Late February 2008

When I supplied a version of this commentary as Episode I of a contribution to Turps magazine [www.turpsbanana.com or coming soon to your nearest esoteric outlet] I appended, in place of the hoped for cliff-hanger, the following dry account of such technical data as a professional journal might expect...

Technical Notes

Technically there are no mysteries. The fabrication is simple and the means austere. Andy has now provided me with panels for the whole work based on the one I started with (now replaced). The surface of each is 3.2mm untempered hardboard braced by pine battens 27mm x 27mm glued on with Titebond (aliphatic resin wood adhesive). They are primed with Golden Acrylic white primer toned down with Mars Black (Tri Art). The primer has been given some ‘tooth’ by the addition of pumice (grade 250 grit) which also makes for a more matte surface. Proportion is approx one teaspoonful to a litre of primer, which is applied in 4 or 5 coats with 24hr hardening time between each application. The final surface is then lightly sanded with 400 grit wet and dry paper (silicon carbide) used dry.

Each panel is underpainted with an all over, hastily brushed, random field of muted colour with mid-tones predominating and the occasional accent of purer hues amongst the general diffuseness. This is what happened with the second panel I started and became the general practise, though not too much effort is made to achieve the same effect with each.

As for the oil paint itself I now tend to use Michael Harding’s rich pigments for the most part though I retain old favourites from Winsor & Newton’s range, notably the pungent Winsor Green and the potent Winsor Violet. There are of course other tubes occasionally brought into play variously bought at various times, some as long as thirty years ago, including a seemingly inexhaustible tube of Indian Red from Spectrum, a relic of art school days. I don’t use any fancy driers or extra mediums, relying on white spirit. Only in the world of art mags is there no substitute for turps.

For the underpainting I’m happy to use any medium size brush that comes to hand. The delicate tracery and detailed patterning that rapidly became the norm of the second stage called for small fine brushes that would retain their point and have the necessary spring. In my schoolboy days this would have evoked the hushed mention of Kolinsky Sable. One knew that for really fine painting only this treasured hair, gathered from rare and rufous rodents in the Steppes of central Asia, would do. This is a myth, or has become one. I have tried the ever improving range of artificial fibres which started a generation ago with very floppy nylon but now firm mixtures of hair are used, which keep their spring and shape after repeated use and only need a brisk rinse in white spirit at the end of the day. Prolene (Pro-Arte) and Cotman (Winsor & Newton) are excellent in small sizes but I have a slight preference for Sablette made by Utrecht, which I found in the shop opposite the Chelsea Hotel. In all the surface painting so far I have used up no more than three such size 1 brushes. No weasel fears my easel: let mustela sibirica scamper free.

Radio 3: Sunday 24th February

Portrait of Olivier Messiaen, acrylic on panel, 1993

For any who might have listened to Iain Burnside's Radio 3 programme on Sunday 24th February here is the portrait (Vingt Regards) that I did of Olivier Messiaen for the French National Collection. This was the subject of my long rambling anecdote.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

TP on Radio 3

On Sunday, 24th February, Tom Phillips will be in conversation with Iain Burnside on his Sunday morning show on Radio 3, playing amongst other things the studio tape of Brian Eno's Like Running Away. The two hour programme begins at 10am. For further information follow this link where you will be able to listen to the programme again for seven days after broadcast.

Friday, February 08, 2008

My painting cont'd XIV

It is Dante time in the enterprise, nel mezzo del cammin… just half way through the journey… on what is getting to be a bumpy road judging from the bulge of chaos in the centre, plus the many elements still unresolved; and a beginning panel yet to be fully reworked.

Nevertheless it seems a natural break in the story, like the interval in a two act opera when the plot is known and the aesthetic established even if the outcome is only to be guessed at. Whatever the case Vincero! Vinc-e-ero! seems a long way off.

It would be a strange opera however that, by the time the audience sought bars and lavatories or the ever shrinking smoker’s ghetto, had not announced its title. I am still somehow left with Untitled: A Fragment which is neither resonant, inviting nor informative, and which begs the question, “What’s it all about then, guv?” This question properly dogs my working day where every certainty has its corresponding doubt and in which the only absolute certainty is doubt itself. On the other hand it is axiomatic of abstract art that it strives to be non-referential and thus it is an appropriate and primary aim of this picture that it should be an autonomous act of painting.

However the difficulty of finding a title is caused more by a multiplicity rather than a paucity of allusion; though allusion is not quite the right word. Dante says that his Comedy (it was not he that called it Divine) in terms of its meaning is polysemous, a many layered thing. My picture avoids his particularity of meaning and its visual dialectic might better be described as polyanalogical. Passing through it there are ghosts of many kinds of enquiry and activity from cosmology to tattooing. These include, among others, mapmaking, dance, territorial board games, quantum physics, ping pong, calligraphy, topology, semiotics, form and growth in nature and the mark-making of early man. Of some I have little understanding (quantum physics) or am a lowly practitioner (ping pong) but there is one more familiar parallel world whose totality, as well as its parts (pitch, key, tonal spectrum, rhythms, form and dynamic), proves a constant model for much of what I do, and that is music.

Yet the upper stratum of my thought when working, or just staring dumbly wondering how to go on, is purely pictorial. The picture, by alluding to no thing specifically, remains for me a permeable structure which associations can enter freely, visit and leave, or stay and inhabit.

My goal is that those who see it will find it equally porous, and, remembering the girl heroine of Eleanora H. Porter’s popular novel, Pollyanna, will relish the ‘glad game’ I hope to make (which makes me think that polyanalogical was not such a bad word).

My painting cont'd XIII

Here Alice has cooked up, by the addition of underpainting yet unmade, a composite image which shows more clearly how the picture is going. This is in preparation for an article in Turps magazine which will be a digest of this blog as Part I of a gripping two part series. The next entry here will make the half time summary.

After observing my maladroit fidgeting with clamps to hold any two panels together on the easel Andy suggested making a simple holder, here in use, which does the trick... with the additional benefit of giving the hand a less risky resting place than on the picture surface.