Representational v abstraction

©Stuart Bush Hard to Concentrate, oil on board 30 x 40 x 3.5 cm
 
I remember watching the film Pulp Fiction, in that movie, there was a great power in the mystery of what was in the suitcase. In the film, we never find out. The mystery of not knowing was more powerful than knowing.  I see there is enormous potential for interpretation by the viewer.  I want to add mystery to my artwork so the viewer can interpret the work the way they see it.  The audience can bring their own intentions, baggage and ideas.   I want the viewer to look at the artwork and let their mind wonder.  
 
Representational art discusses drawing, handling of paint, skill, composition; it also can be used to communicate ideas and a subject.  The intention behind representational work is often clear for the viewer, but I have found it limited for discussing deeper philosophical challenges and felt it was holding me back.  
 
However, abstraction artwork is different in that is invites more commentary and mystery.  The viewer coasts across the surface trying to understand it and often falling short.  The viewer can often never be sure if they understand the artist’s intention.  The intention is often not what the work is about.  Instead while making the work the thinking and the doing are often inseparable where feeling and emotional responses are often significant in making the ‘art’ within work.
 
I want to create a space for instincts and accidents rather than the straightforward one-to-one representation. I want to feel and grab something real and put it in a painting.  I am interested in the space in the viewer’s mind as much as the space in the composition and the space that inspired the work.  Through an investigation of spatial structures in a pursuit of knowledge, I want to create a different way of looking and seeing the world.  I find it profoundly gratifying focusing on the place in-between forms; perceiving the image and watching it disappear into shapes, forms and space.  
 
The outcome is an artwork that is intended to work on many levels.  The clarity of the composition is comparable with the mark making: realising positive and negative, absence and presence in equal measure. The colours and forms produce and transmit a poetic meaning, an emotional state that invites interpretation. By creating an interpretation of space that cannot be communicated by words the work it acts a metaphor about what it means to alive today.  
 

Making better work than I did yesterday

 
©Stuart Bush The rush 2016 oil on board 50 x 70 cm
My idea of success is linked to what l have rather than what l haven’t.  It is common to hear of success being tied to financial wealth.  That isn’t success for me; profit does not drive my artwork.  I have the opportunity to discover who l am, to find my own voice, to find my true self through my art.  My goal is to make better work today than l did yesterday, it is as simple as that
 
I finished university in 2006 and when l look at my early paintings l can see l have taken small progressive steps each year.  Now over ten years later l know l have made significant progress. However, l feel as if l have been making the same painting for ten years, each time exploring my interest in seeing the body in space.  The concept of finding what my personal gift is and discovering my potential is more exciting than any material needs.  That is why l have chosen this life as an artist, or maybe it has chosen me. 
 
I see being an unknown artist as a positive thing.  It enables me to consider the long game, to build on each day and to go deeper to see what the ‘it’ is. Many of my paintings are built up gently in the studio.  Each painting supports the next one, thereby pushing me forward in a positive way.  I have a conviction, a commitment and the determination not to give up.  I believe strongly in what l am doing.
 
By doing art for myself, l can avoid criticism and avoid making commercial decisions.  This allows me to find a way forward without manufacturing art.  The art l make is more about emotions than constructions, more about art and poetry, and less about resolved ideas.  I want to make work for myself that l feel really passionate about,  l don’t want to dilute my work.  l want to make the decisions about what needs editing before the public see it.  I want my work to be the best that it can be.  I realise that this may divide the potential audience.  However, once the work is made public, it could potentially turn me into a public person. I’m not sure that l want that to happen.  I want to make work for a small audience that appreciates and supports my work
 
I am a figurative painter, and I want to get close to the source.  I want to make work within an intellectual framework inspired by my muse, my muse being my experience of the city. This framework is the key to the art within me, allowing me not to over thinking what l am doing and allowing me to initiate an inner response, thereby preventing me from being distracted by my head or my ego, competition with other artists or self-doubt.  Reflection comes later, after a period of time, when l can contemplate and think about what l have made.  
 
I want to make art is good as it can be. My competition is with myself and being better than yesterday.
 

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Drawings in space

 
Forms in Space…by light (in time), an installation by Cerith Wyn Evans
Tate Britain Commission, all rights are reserved by the artist
Forms in Space…by light (in time), an installation by Cerith Wyn Evans
Tate Britain Commission, 28 March – 20 August 2017
 
When walking into the Duveen Gallery at Tate Britain in London, I was confronted with a juxtaposition of neo-classical architecture with a manifestation of neon lights in the space.  I immediately felt the needed to stop and gaze in awe and give myself some time to take it in.  Cerith Wyn Evans’s installation of apparently random curves, loops and lines is almost 2 kilometres long and is an exciting, surprising discursive experience that gives the viewer space to contemplate.
 
Cerith Wyn Evans was born in 1958 and started his career as an experimental filmmaker.  He now uses installation, sculpture, photography, film and text within his work.  Wyn Evans shows that drawing in space with chandelier sculptures of light influenced by concerns with space, melody, harmony and form is comparable to a piece of music or poetry.  The work is inspired by Japanese Noh Theatre, and Duchamp’s [=The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (the Large Glass)] of 1912 to 1923.
 
The installation has a chronological feel that is translating movement into form, where boundaries of perceived time and space overlap. The three-dimensional drawing invites you to deconstruct a journey of dipping arcs and twists through space.  
 
The sculpture appears to move as you move through the space. Distortion and torsion twist in space are like colliding systems and particles. Wyn Evans visited the Hadron Collider several times; I’m sure this must of made an impression.
 
Cerith Wyn Evan’s work is a materialisation of space and has a reservoir of possible meanings and ideas. The work creates a state of mind which is productive for thoughts to grow. The zooming trajectories collide with thoughts opening the mind of the viewer to complexities of life, creating a proposition to ponder your stream of awareness.
 
Forms in Space…by light (in time), an installation by Cerith Wyn Evans
Tate Britain Commission, all rights are reserved by the artist
Forms in Space…by light (in time), an installation by Cerith Wyn Evans
Tate Britain Commission, all rights are reserved by the artist
Forms in Space…by light (in time), an installation by Cerith Wyn Evans
Tate Britain Commission, all rights are reserved by the artist

Finding time for your priorities

©Stuart Bush, You don’t understand me series 1-4, 2015 gouache on paper
I recently watched a video on TED titled, ‘How to gain control of your free time’ by Laura Vanderkam.   Laura spoke about how we are always so busy, but if we come home and needed to resolve a situation like a broken boiler, we know we must prioritise it, and we always manage to find the time.
 
In Laura’s story, it took 7 hours to deal with the emergency, to clean up the mess and get a plumber to come and fix it. It is surprising to think that is possible to find 7 hours to deal something like this in a very busy daily schedule.
 
As I watched the video, I wondered how I could make better use of my time.  How much time do I spend in the day doing unproductive things that don’t work towards my goals?  If time is a choice and I take some time to decide what my priorities are for the long and short term I know l need to plan for the next year in advance and put these priorities over other requests for my time.  Then I can fit in scheduled time into slots in my diary and make sure my time is focused time.  Then the results will follow.
 
A final piece of helpful advice from the video to help manage your priorities is for when you receive requests for your time, rather than say, “I don’t have time because of X, Y & Z,” is to say, ”I don’t do X, Y & Z because they are not a priority.”  

Juggling a job, while being a parent and an artist

©2016 Stuart Bush, Hopes and Fears, (2007) oil on canvas 150 x 85 cm
 
At times I have found juggling a full-time job while being a parent and starting a career as an emerging artist, very frustrating.  When I have tried to put in lots of effort in my art career, my family time and job has suffered this, in turn, has left me feeling unhappy.
 
I have read about artists, like Picasso and Matisse who decided to prioritise art at the cost of everything else in their life including their family.  I think the choices they made don’t suit me.  By putting my family first, it means prioritising family time and paying the bills.  Art has ended third on my list of priorities.
 
I have been frustrated for a while coming to terms with this.  Over time I have come to realise this gives me the opportunity to take more time, to make the art I want to make for me.  I wonder about the solitude if I was working on my own in my studio.  Of course, I realise that this wouldn’t be every day but thinking about this has made value my full-time job more, as I enjoy the social side of working in a team.
 
I love spending time and seeing my family growing up, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.  I have meet artists making a living from their art where they have very little money.  The artist I have come across are unlikely to afford to buy a house or have a good pension.  I wanted to make sure I had a good income to allow my family to flourish and thrive.  I have reached the conclusion, by working full time, having a mortgage and good pension I can look forward to the time when my family are older.  I will be able to move my art up my list of priorities. I feel happy about this order of priorities, and I know it is the way it should be. I now accept it rather than fight it.
 
To fit everything in, I have to have some sort of order to my life, a kind of time management priority list of sorts. I prioritise my family life and job and my art making time fits in around that. I try to plan my year ahead and decide what my priorities are for each year.  I am working towards depth in my artwork rather than bereft. I then break down each week so that I can allow time for each activity.  I am only able to have a couple of art objectives on a weekly basis.  They typically are making artwork and writing my blog.  My other art career plans just have to wait.  
 
My next post is about finding time for your priorities, please subscribe to my RSS feed, newsletter or come back next week, so you don’t miss a post.

Contemporary painting versus constructed reality

©Stuart Bush, Nobodies fault, oil on board 70.2 x 50.4 x 3.6cm
I have certainly had the feeling that there is some wrong with the world and I’m sure most people have. I recently watched the film ‘The Matrix’ (1999) again after reading the Guardian newspaper article titled, ‘Constructed reality: are we living in a computer simulation?’  I think it is unlikely that we are residing in a computer simulation, even though some people think it is true. Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of Tesla and Space X believes the probability that we are not all living in a simulated world is one in billions, but I think most people would not think too deeply about this argument. 
 
©The Matrix (1999) Warner Bros
The Matrix dialogue
Morpheus:  Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know, you can’t explain. But you feel it. You felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there. Like a splinter in your mind – driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Neo: The Matrix?
Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is?
 
I enjoy thinking about ideas that challenge what we believe to be true. It wasn’t that long ago we thought the earth was flat.  To try and find out what the purpose and meaning of life is and believe the simulation argument leads you down a rabbit hole.  I think it is impossible to verify and confirm whether it is true or not.  Life still matters, either way, we are still conscious and aware of our own existence, sensations and thoughts, we still have purposeful relationships and activities.  
 
A great approach is to follow your instincts by exploring, responding and make sense of this world.  Personally, the only way I can see to do this is through my relationship with making art. It feels natural to me through making art to look for a deeper level of meaning and value in our ordinary everyday lives. I am always looking for hidden depths of our deepest self.
 
I feel like I see the world differently and I see my ultimate goal as an artist is to locate and communicate this.  I would always feel incomplete if I tried to suppress this urge. It is a passionate engagement and something I have to do.
 
Braque said,”the only valid thing in art is which cannot be explained.”
 
Further reading:
Is our world a simulation?  Why some scientists say, it’s more likely that not.
 
Are you Living in a Simulation? By Nick Bostrom
 
The Matrix as Metaphysics by David J. Chalmers
 

Hodgkin says goodbye to absent friends – Howard Hodgkin exhibition review at the National Portrait Galley in London

Portrait of the Artist Listening to Music by Howard Hodgkin, 2011-2016, Courtesy Gagosian © Howard Hodgkin Portrait of the artist by Miriam Perez. Courtesy Gagosian.

Ever since I was interested in art, I have always seen Howard Hodgkin as one of my artists who’s work resonates strongly with me. In this review of Howard Hodgkin’s Absent Friends exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, I want to explore, understand and put into words (if that is possible) what it is about Hodgkin’s paintings that has managed to turn mere paintings into objects of contemplation and hold my curiosity for so many years.  At the same time say goodbye to another great artist; Howard Hodgkin died on 9th March 2017, two weeks before this show opened.

 

Howard Hodgkin was born in 1932.  He studied at Camberwell School of Art between 1949-50 and Bath Academy of Art between 1950-1954.  In 1985 Hodgkin won the Turner Prize and represented Britain at the Venice Biennale.  Since then he has gone on to exhibit across the world and has his work is in many private and public collections.

Mrs Nicholas Monro by Howard Hodgkin, 1966 – 1969, Private Collection, London © Howard Hodgkin

The art I expect to see at the portrait gallery normally refers to an anatomical likeness of a person in the traditions of pictorial realism.  However, in this show, the paintings are titled as portraits that capture a memory of a person and a moment as a dematerialised idea imprinted on the mind.  They are described by Hodgkin as ‘representational pictures of emotional situations’.  The paintings capture realism as a complete expression of individuality, of both the artist and what he sees.  Paint and colour refashions the world as he sees it.  Hodgkin sees more than an individual likeness; he sees how the light falls to create abstract forms of intense emotion.  He paints his thoughts from memory with swirls and splashes as a response to the flux of the world.  The paintings are like a recording that captures a feeling, that took place between him and the person in the title.

 

Hodgkin once said, “Painting is like putting a message into a bottle and flinging it into the sea,” Observer article, 2001.   Howard Hodgkin believed his paintings talk for themselves and often was reluctant to discuss the meaning behind his work.  He was always happy for the viewer to see and interpret what they like from his deeply cherished moments.  

Waking up in Naples by Howard Hodgkin, 1980 – 1984, Private Collection, London © Howard Hodgkin

The paintings are more like artefacts or an object rather than just paintings.  Hodgkin worked slowly producing a maximum of 10 paintings a year.  He laboured and agonised over them in an intense process, which is evident from the dates of the work and from listening to him discuss the torture he injured when painting.  His artistry clearly lies in making something that took years look like it was made in a couple of hours.

 

“It’s very hard to keep all the things going on in a painting, the feeling, the emotion, the memory; they have to turn into something else. The problem really is making the painting stand up by itself.  The memory has to turn into a thing, into an object. And that is a very slow process for me.” Howard Hodgkin, BBC Radio 4, Desert Island Discs.

 

It was always clear to Hodgkin when a painting was finished and complete, as it captured his original idea that triggered the picture.  He painted on used blackboards, kitchen worktop and old picture frames rather than canvas.  He liked pieces of wood that already had an identity and a life.  When walking through the chronological hung exhibition, it is evident to see how Hodgkin developed a confidence with colour through his career.  Each painting has a strong, unique, distinctive character of swirls, curves, dots and lines in vibrant pigment, a collision of pattern and forms.

The Spectator by Howard Hodgkin, 1984-87, Michael P. Green © Howard Hodgkin

The painting that sums up Hodgkin’s painting practice for me is ‘Mrs K’, 1966-7. It is a portrait of Jane Kasmin.  It reminds me of being in a dark room as someone enters from the far end through a closed door.  The sun floods into the dark room, and a bold form of a figure interrupts the light, as you adjust your eyes.  The painting opens up heartfelt sentiments of solitude and vulnerability.   The painting challenges your visual psychological space, it encourages you to learn something new about the world about what realism could be or should be.  In my eyes, the painting is a more accurate and truthful interpretation of human perception than traditional pictorial realism.  

 

The impressive show with many well-lit rooms of high-quality work was a pleasure to visit.   The exhibition delves deep in Hodgkin’s practice of painting, asking questions about our human construction of reality in this seemly meaningless world.  Every single one of the paintings in this show feels like a battleground between the artist, materiality and reality.  They are an expression of individuality of the artist and its subject; they are self-portraits of the artist and subject portraits wrapped up in one.    Hodgkin created paintings that outlast the subject and the artist himself.  A makeover of the world in paint, with the paint being the carrier of vibrant and radiant feelings. It is a joyful farewell to an outstanding artist.

Portrait of the artist by Howard Hodgkin, 1984-87, Private Collection © Howard Hodgkin

Drawing, The creative act

©Stuart Bush, I’m not mad at all, oil paint on paper

 

Allowing freedom in the studio for creativity exploration is essential. When I work on a plain sheet of paper or in my sketchbook, I seek to have an openness in my drawings that allows and embraces a large number directions and options that can be pursued. A chain of evolution takes place in my pictures over an extended period of time and patience is essential. Working on and towards a finished piece too early can make the outcome contrived and often can leave me frustrated.
This explorative phase is more like problem-creation stage than problem-solving stage. I am looking to generate new ideas to stimulate my visual imagination and leaving space for creativity and ambiguity. I have often found that without this freeness, the development and exploratory of my thoughts are restricted, and the work comes to a dead end.
With creative freedom in my drawings, my insight and intuition give me an inkling of what to do next allowing me to focus on specific issues and open questions. I can then remove certain details and concentrate on the whole by copying and repeating to expand conceptual ideas and structures by following a hunch.  
Inspiration is an essential ingredient and can come from chaotic and imprecise work made with an open mind or by viewing another artist’s work or for me, by being inspired by the city. Accidents and chance can lead to seeing embedded ideas in a different way. The freeness leaves space to suggest moods and emotions and enhancing abstract concepts. I often feel the need to revisit unresolved ideas and expanding on them. Sometimes this leads to radical changes and often, exciting new artwork.
It is always important to remember that overworking can remove the essence, spirit, the actual original thoughts, and potential. The outcome is successful when the liberty and pleasure are still visible. After all seemingly effortless art signifies greatness and shows the way forward for an artist who can then capture what is immaterial into the material.

©Stuart Bush, No exit, pen on paper 43 x 61 cm

How do I begin an artwork? What equipment, materials and techniques do I use?

 
 
©Stuart Bush, You don’t understand me part 1-4, 2015 gouache on paper – 
My work starts with street photography. I wander the streets as a Flaneur.  Charles Baudelaire, the nineteenth-century poet described a Flaneur in his essay ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ as a stroller and loafer of the city streets observing modern life. Likewise l wander around the city like a man of leisure as l try to take it all in. Following my intuition and hunches I take pictures of what seems important to me. I look to capture that important element in the frame of my viewfinder, the essence of the importance of life.
 
The photographs I take allows me to record a rich visual diary. By having this source material I always have something to return to if inspiration is running low and I need revisit my original ideas and intentions.
 
The next stage is in the studio with a blank sheet of paper or a blank page in my sketchbook. The main thing that happens in this first stage in the studio is reducing and simplifying the rich source l have gathered and extracting important elements to use. As well as painting and drawing, l sometimes print the photos to create collages or put layers together in a photoshop.
 
Things come together slowly, often my ideas and sketches don’t go anywhere at first. The next time I’m in the shower, or going for a walk, or the next time I am in an art gallery I realise how I can use these snippets of life l have gathered! I then return to the original photographs and sketches and try to refine and develop my ideas.  
 
Often I come to dead end. Then l try to be patience and wait and allow ideas to develop. Allow my mind to bring ideas together. This normally happens when I am not particularly thinking about artwork, but when my mind is open and free to wander.
 
However, once l feel I am on to something, I look to develop a process and repeat the format in order to create a series of work. 
 
This is an ongoing and forever changing process.
 

What do I enjoyabout my time in the art studio?

 
©Stuart Bush Hard to concentrate, oil on board 30 x 40 x 3.5 cm – £1000 + shipping enquiry
My art studio is on the top floor of an old shoe factory in Northampton. I have been working in this space for over ten years now.  The space is quite full.  Ten years means ten years of equipment, ten years of paperwork and ten years of ideas on paper and canvas.  
 
I have weekly access to London where I go looking for inspiration to bring back to the studio and process my ideas.  It is great to have the exposure to view the best galleries and exhibitions and to be able to walk the streets of London with my camera.  
 
A studio is a place of unique freedom; it is a place for me and my thoughts where I can figure things out.  It is a place to use my intuition to look for problems, get things wrong, make mistakes and follow a hunch. I have learnt a way to lie to myself, and accept whatever comes out of the creative act is good enough.  
 
I feel a strong need and desire to process the world.  Thinking about my artwork is done in pencil and paint as I process what I see, as I look to figure how to process it.  I believe that what I am trying to grasp through my art practice is of importance, to get a better understanding of the seemingly meaningless void, what we call life.  
 
Through my practice as a painter if I painted nature I would want to paint the treeness of a tree, something that resonates strongly with us.  In the lines and colours of my ephemeral moments I look to reflect a visual equivalent of the rhythm the city.  The work deepens and expands to harmonise the whole.  I paint my inclination of form from the structural elements of the figure in the city to express us.   A simplified and symbolic vision that selects what is essential through reduction.  In between representational and abstraction, reality and painting.   
 
Josef Albers said in the Interaction of colour, “In musical compositions, so long as we hear merely single tones, we do not hear music.  Hearing music depends on the recognition of the in-between of the tones, of their placing and their spacing.” This quote is important to understand how I see individual pieces of my work in the studio as linked into a wider conversation I am trying to have.  My blog is titled “The Poetic Painter, Painting in pictures rather than words” because music, poetry and painting have a lot of similarities.  Like David Salle said, an iconic image has the “visual equivalent of a tenor reaching a high note.”
 
I enjoy my opportunity to communicate my thought and ideas.  I like to hear what you enjoy about your creative time.  Please join in the conversation in the comment box below.