Linen with natural dyes, acrylic and oil paint, wood, steel brackets
170 x 110 cm
Journeying to the studio, via the post office to collect a package. Cycling through the rain, which started as soon as I left the flat. By the time I arrive at the studio I’m dressed in beads of rain. I’m not ready yet to look at the paintings on the wall. Sit on the floor and think about how the sky looked outside. That kind of ungraspable sheet of dirty white cloud, stained heavily here and there, but fresh, refreshingly bright. The post is a book, Simon Winchester’s account of Krakatoa. It is humbling, to read of forces of an incomprehensible violence, and imagine the smog and the affect it had on colour, a landscape ravaged and transformed forever. It takes a while but slowly I’ll admit this isn’t a day for confronting my paintings at all, so I won’t paint.
Another day and I’m mixing up some Robersons oil to get the perfect foam-banana yellow. Adding colour to the surface of the painting, to smother the knowledge that its over. This is not the painting I want to make anymore. The flurry of excitement that was there when we began has grown tired. Walk out of the studio, pick up lunch. Think about how much I want to go and visit the Rauchenberg retrospective, but know that today isn’t the right day, today it would be intrusive.
Back in the studio, inflicting a delicate tantrum upon my painting. Tearing it away from the support and in half. Realising immediately a fascination for the marks that reveal themselves as the surface I created is destroyed. These underlying marks of consequence have polluted the linen. Patchy greens stained with black oil washed thinly and becoming grey. Orange claims ground without compromise when opaque, and glows in the places where it has fallen over a bed of white. Crevices and folds hold their own in the linen now, stiffened from a time spent tightly bound to the wooden frame. A perfect horizontal line runs along what must be the lower half of the composition, it reminds me of the stabilizing horizon line Graham Sutherland so often employed in his landscapes. Something more is needed now to offset this stability.
Thinking about the weight of this piece. It is a scrap that needs to be set alongside, and challenged by some entity much larger than it. Certainly, this is going to be a work made up of more than one part. Drawing to try and make sense of ideas. Thinking about how the orientation of this painting alone is currently horizontal, but the piece needs length. As much as the studio walls will permit. Maybe that’s all it needs. Verticality will be what I combine to set this piece off.
Back at the studio after a few days out. Working. Cycling. Seeing a friends show. Conversations with friends about painting and making work. It gets passionate. Some strong words are used, they stay with me. When I last left the studio I was feeling like I knew what my next move was going to be. But I’m back and not so sure anymore. The space in between has changed my mind some. It takes time for my eyes to adjust to this painting once again. I work on other things instead and weeks pass by. I’m reading The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd, and planning on spending some well overdue time in Scotland.
Another conversation with a friend who visits me in the studio. I talk about my work, which I’ve been avoiding recently. Externalising helps un-knot a few things. A jolt forward and what is needed now is yellow, lemon yellow, the kind that cannot be ignored. The kind that shouts and shocks. The kind that almost doesn’t make sense alongside the palette contained within the saturated linen.
It is resolved.
The day after I see the Colour Is exhibition at Waddington Custot Gallery. There is a truly, truly wonderful Sam Gilliam piece. But it is the Etel Adnan that I can’t get away from. Modest in size, not one but two horizon lines at the base, a pale flesh tone made saccharine by the cadmium red it rests under. Above, the canvas is filled with a sharp green, from inside the green space comes a circle filled solid in a colour which is difficult to name and I realise I don’t want to place it right now, I want to leave it alone, let it keep its strangeness. The circle looms over the strange horizon, with a great weight, holding strong in position. It’s a sense of unease I’m compelled by, and the driving force is colour. There is confusion at the power this palette has over me, it shouldn’t work – the selection is mad, but it certainly does.
It charms me that this painting acts as a reminder of how I approach colour. I saw the Rauchenberg too in the end, and will again. His work has always been around in the back of my head somewhere, filtering through now and then seeking my acknowledgement, I am equally charmed by his influence.
This diary has been kept for a couple of months now, and was soundtracked by the likes of Elbow, Anderson .Paak, Peter Broderick, Agnes Obel and Radio 4.