EC on colour paint and painting
“In the late 90’s I spent a few years making black and white paintings. These new paintings were mainly in acrylic and not oil, and that was because when I wasn’t at university I painted in my bedroom so I couldn’t be surrounded by turps etc. It was just more practical for me then. At that time I was mainly using Liquitex and Golden. I spent this time mixing my own blacks – a red black, a blue black etc, and would also add minuscule amounts of colours to my whites to alter them very slightly. I would work with these slight differences within one painting or within small groups that would relate to one another with these subtle changes when placed side by side. It was a very focussed way of working with colour and quite disciplined. I set up a limit for myself to work within, or a system, but within limits a lot can be discovered and learned I think. I would also use mixed papers and other materials in these works and handle the paint in different ways so that not only were there the slight changes in the blacks or whites, but also in surface, texture, breathiness and looseness of paint and denser areas. I would also underpaint more gestural forms (and sometimes automatic writing in charcoal, pencil etc) beneath the geometric areas, in one colour and on unprimed canvas. There would be a kind of hovering of colour beneath, influencing the blacks or whites above. These differences would be most visible when two paintings were placed side by side, for example two white paintings that at a glance could appear the same but were not at all. It was to do with really looking and not hurrying. I’d bring in materials like varnishes to alter the surfaces and insisted on working on unprimed cotton duck because I liked the colour to sink and stain the canvas first and then build over that, some areas sunk and others very much pushed forward, sitting on top as I built up the paint. I stretched the canvases myself, mainly over stretchers I’d make or buy. Atlantis was just round the corner from where I studied so it suited me to go there to get many of my materials.
My earlier way of working taught me a lot about colour. It was not ‘just’ black and white. These days I’d say that I deal with materials and qualitative aspects in ways that have unfurled out of what I did before, although it might not seem obvious. Perhaps there are more condensed rhythmic qualities present, a different kind of visual organisation and some of my work physically comes out of the boundaries of the ground I start on, perhaps more robust, tough and physical in feel, uncontained at times.
I must experiment to really get to know anything – Experience matters to me rather than theory, or to put it another way; I need to do it to really know it. I work with colour in such a way now that might appear more chaotic at first, when seen in relation to how I worked years ago. There are no rules as such, more a kind of free-association-rule-making, questioning and finding out. It’s only in the last two years or so that I have brought in more ‘high key’ colours and really pursued colour ideas that I subjectively may not have liked. So that’s a kind of objective visual exploration maybe. The ‘pleasure’ might be in the materials, the stuff and it’s handling but the colour relationships might be more jarring and upsetting at times. I still like to mix up my own blacks, play with different whites and mix colours with some subtlety but that might be alongside a luminous yellow or high key pink straight out of the tube for example, or an oil based paint I’ve had mixed at the DIY shop.
I would love to be able to spend away on pots of Golden Cadmium red for example, but I can’t. Anyway, I find that a battle with materials is satisfying, and that luxuriating in my favourite choices is not necessary. My paints and materials are usually from the DIY store down the road, mixed with oil and acrylic paints from Cass or Atlantis, mail order art suppliers, as well as found materials from skips and things like marker pens, tippex, pins, papers, card and so on. The oils, acrylics, gouache, ink, watercolour etc that I use are not bought with a brand of paint or highest quality materials in mind but the spray paint tends to be the Liquitex low-odour, water-based one as it’s best for use in my studio which is at home. Stuff I find myself surrounded with might enter my work from my studio environment – detritus, discarded stuff is put back into my work. As for my brushes, some are over twenty years old and others are bad DIY shop ones that don’t really load any paint but are great to brutalise, work on large areas, or scratch away at the paint to lift some off, making large areas more breathy. On my big canvases I like to use these brushes particularly because their limitations work for me. I’ll also use other materials I find to hand to push the paint about.” ~ EC
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