Allowing freedom in the studio for creative 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 of 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 a problem-creation stage than a 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.
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 to 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 patient 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.
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 I strongly resonate with. 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 the 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. I notice the similarities between music, poetry and painting. 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.
When l saw an image of the installation of Richard’s show l was intrigued and decided to visit. Richard Wilson, the Turner Prize-nominated artist, has been exhibiting for 35 years and has won universal critical acclaim. In this review of his exhibition ‘Stealing Spaces’ at the Annely Juda Fine Art gallery in London l was interested in how he uses different materials and ideas to draw attention to our relationship with space. His work titled, ‘20:50‘ (1987) is an installation of oil in a room up to waist height and helped draw attention to his practice which uses methods of engineering combined with his interest in architecture.
This quote from ‘Richard Wilson’ by Simon Morrissey, Tate Publishing 2005, page 7, gives us an insight to his way of thinking.
“I need that initial thing from the real world because I’ve always been concerned with the way you alter someone’s perception, knock their view of kilter. And to do that I need to start with something we think we understand.”
This idea that you can ‘alter someone’s perception’ is something I can completely relate to and try to achieve in my own work and is the reason I find Richard’s work fascinating. In his work Richard encourages the viewer to reconsider and re-evaluate common spaces, thereby opening up a very rich and productive exploration of physical space.
I believe that Richard’s work shows the importance of the artist’s role in finding a humble idea that has previously been overlooked, and make it into art by develop it into a life-long practice, elevating it up to something purposeful and meaningful and thereby adding wonder.
When I first saw the two large sculptures made from familiar materials squeezed into the white rooms they made me wonder how he achieved the aim of getting those big structures up the stairs. When viewing, Space Between the Landing and the Gallery (2017) plywood on wood and metal, 310 x 740 x 101 cm, my attention is drawn to what I took for granted when I walked up the four flights of stairs moments ago. While viewing the installation I wanted to re-consider my short journey up the stairs. I did not notice the interesting details from the stair banister and steps, the significance of the space created and my relationship to these spaces. My thoughts lead me to contemplate, Marcel Duchamp’s, ‘Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 (1912) oil on canvas, in a new way. I thought how a person moves through space and they ascend and descend stairs and I found this interplay of connections and ideas intriguing.
I can see why Richard makes a minimum of 3 sketches a day as I found his small framed drawings compelling and it is clearly the primary foundation of his ideas and practice. If I had one criticism of the exhibition, it would be that I would have loved to see the original sketchbook drawings to discover how Richard’s ideas started and progressed rather than just the finished sketches and finished installation. I would have been very interested in understanding how he developed his ideas and this would have taken this exhibition to another level.
The installations, models and drawings in the show made me take another look at the external and internal space, the positive and negative space, and to reconsider my memories and experience of moving through space. This exhibition of Richard Wilson’s work has forced me to reassess architecture’s relationship and my response to space. I realised I am overlooking the beauty of the familiar, the layers of meaning as I walk through a space and the resulting memories of the journeys I take. The exhibition, as a result, was one of surprise and delight and I walked away feeling I had learnt a great deal about using and understanding art and space.
Art is about using your creativity to make new connections to things around you. The intention is to reconsider what you previously thought to give you a better understanding of what life is really about.
Creativity in art is really about playing and experimenting. Taking two random things and letting things happen. Being overly self-critical or self-conscious can prohibit a breakthrough. You’re not trying to re-invent the wheel; you need to encounter discomfort and ignore any fears and tell yourself, this is for me and try not to worry what other people think.
You could connect something banal like house bricks, reflecting coldness and the mundane, as a wake-up call to the excesses of capitalism like Carl Andre and his artwork, Equivalent V.
You take on some of the big topics, like immortality, life and death by linking the cycle of life, with flies living and dying in a glass box like Damien Hirst, titled ‘A Thousand Years’ (1990).
Or you could take up a skill like drawing, painting or pottery and just get making and see where it takes you. The trick is once on a path, you’re bound not to know where the work is heading. If you thought you knew where your ideas are going, your artwork is probably stillborn or dead and lacks any inside energy.
The Helsinki Bus Station Theory by photographer Arno Rafaela Minkkinen explains some interesting and worthwhile advice:
The Helsinki Bus Station theory:
Some two-dozen platforms are laid out in a square at the heart of the city. At the head of each platform is a sign posting the numbers of the buses that leave from that particular platform. The bus numbers might read as follows: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19.
Each bus takes the same route out of the city for a least a kilometer stopping at bus stop intervals along the way where the same numbers are again repeated: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19.
Now let’s say, again metaphorically speaking, that each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer, meaning the third bus stop would represent three years of photographic activity.
Ok, so you have been working for three years making platinum studies of nudes. Call it bus #21.
You take those three years of work on the nude to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn. His bus, 71, was on the same line. Or you take them to a gallery in Paris and are reminded to check out Bill Brandt, bus 58, and so on.
Shocked, you realize that what you have been doing for three years others have already done.
So you hop off the bus, grab a cab (because life is short) and head straight back to the bus station looking for another platform.
This time you are going to make 8×10 view camera color snapshots of people lying on the beach from a cherry picker crane.
You spend three years at it and three grand and produce a series of works that illicit the same comment: haven’t you seen the work of Richard Misrach? Or, if they are steamy black and white 8×10 camera view of palm trees swaying off a beachfront, haven’t you seen the work of Sally Mann?
So once again, you get off the bus, grab the cab, race back and find a new platform. This goes on all your creative life, always showing new work, always being compared to others.
What to do?
It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the f*cking bus.
So play and make random connections. These new connections you make are only significant if they generate new meaning. Use your intuition to sense which have potential and to figure out the best to communicate this idea to someone. Make art from what is around you and try to make a comment about the world.
When telling a joke, the funny part comes when two different separate ideas connect, generating a new meaning, similar to connections within a successful work of art. Remember art is wonder! It doesn’t matter if someone else likes it or dislikes it. What is important is that your audience can’t stop thinking about it. The possibilities are endless. And remember to stay on the f*cking bus!
I am taking positive steps to make me more productive in the studio including things like planning and reviewing what I am going to do in the studio before I arrive and creating some studio ground rules.
I have a list of current projects and series of work l am trying to complete. Before l go to my studio I write down a short list of next steps l need to take, often between two or three depending on long each one will take. This brief list is handwritten in my diary, so it is clear to follow. This way I know what my first task is, therefore avoiding beginning with an extended period of uncertainty. Of course, uncertainty when painting is always present, but I try to remove it at this stage with preplanning.
To choose the right tasks, I ask myself a series of questions; If l only achieve 2-3 tasks in a day what would these tasks be and would l be satisfied if l only get these done? If I made only one work of excellence, which one would make an enormous difference and have the greatest consequences?
To help keep my mind clear and on creative studio time I write down all the distractions l might encounter on a to-do list. Plus l avoid all office and business related tasks while in the studio to avoid all low-level activities. Even if these tasks are urgent, I still try to do them after my creative block of time of one to three hours. The creative time must come first.
The rules I have put in place while working are;
Phone on silent, select music quickly (if I choose to listen to any at all), no tv or video, no newspapers, no friends dropping by, no emailing, no internet research unless it is related to making my next work, therefore no diversions and distractions from the creative task ahead.
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I have an inherent need to communicate and express something. I am constantly looking for a new way to read the world to understand the physicality of forms. I see my practice as an exercise of being a painter/curator of moments of our lives; reclaiming a more agreeable melody, restoring, reordering and decluttering to focus on what is truly important.
By focusing on the space and the possibilities of structure and composition, I hope to emphasise the beauty and harmony from the chaos in the city, to invoke a new reading of its noise, movement and pattern. By revealing things through a slow open process, my work uncovers the importance of the positive and negative space. Where rhythm, colour and form play off each other, and each shape takes it configuration and meaning from the next, as a metaphor for the qualities of a seductive poem or an intriguing piece of music.
There is truth in the paintings as I try to deal with the present tense and how these ephemeral junctures were for me. A situation and context where discoveries and revelations happen. There is a layered time as I grapple with evidence of awkward moments, aspects of failure and changes of direction. Leaving the physical traces of responding to mistakes, that relate to intrinsic qualities of being human.
Through painterly questions of scale, content, colour and form I’m interested in expressing physical and emotional vigour of the human body in the city. I often work with and against the silhouette of the figure in the city. I capture the ephemeral with assertive gestures inspired by poetry and music. My process draws attention to the edge of things, to what is already there. I look to create a visual poetry with energy and motion arrested in space by simultaneously hiding and revealing our world to us and focusing on the void in between the things.
Josef Albers is known for his Homage to the Square. He uses a series of variations of the square that illustrated how colours affect each other. His book titled, ‘The Interaction of the Colour,’ is a studio course for teaching and studying what happens between colours. Josef Albers was born in Bottrop in Germany in 1888 and died in New Haven, USA in 1976. He taught at the Bauhaus and at Yale. I came to the exhibition of Josef Albers’s work at David Zwirner in London and was looking forward to seeing more of his work and hoping to develop a further understanding of Albers basis modernist theory of colour.
The show spread across 2 floors, contains just over 30 artworks. The title of the show ‘Sunny Side Up’ gives you positive expectations of an uplifting experience. There is plenty of space to view each small artwork, and they are certainly is uplifting especially because, on the day I went, there was a protest march against Donald Trump going at the end of the street on the drab wintry day.
I was surprised to find lines that were clearly crafted by hand and sometimes the areas of colour show the marks from the palette knife that was used to create them. The paintings are studies which show that perfectionism is not significant to Albers. The little colour swatches on card, with writing on them, show Alber’s thought processes like a sketchbook of ideas where he worked out what he was thinking.
I expected the flat plains of colour in the artwork to feel empty. However, the squares are like little doors into another world, the world of the sublime. I felt I was being pulled into the squares and into a deep abyss of sunshine.
This exhibition acknowledges the importance of Josef Albers and the contribution he has made to the timeline of art and colour education. The man-made squares of different sizes of yellow, orange and gold make you think more deeply about colour and help develop a deeper appreciation of abstract art. My experience with the show was stronger because of the gloomy weather outside and contributed to increasing my enthusiasm to continue learning about the uses of colour in my work. There are is so many variables that can affect the impact of the square of colour and Albers is clearly the master, as Albers says, “If one says ‘red’ and there are 50 people listening it can be expected that there will be 50 reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.”
Oil bars are an interesting art material to use due to the simplicity of their application. They are great to have in your toolkit when you want to work quickly and on a large scale to create an undercoat or to work in a sketchy graphic style. I find pleasure in using them when creating line drawings, outlines or filling large areas with a uniform colour. They are more like drawing than painting in many ways as you hold the stick like a drawing implement.
I have always found oil bars challenging to use on their own. One of the most challenging things about oil bars is the immediacy and expressive nature of the oil sticks as you can’t remove any marks. When I work with oil bars I don’t smudge the marks, even though they produce a very limited type of stroke. I find some of the outcomes created may need repainting in oil paints to vary the effect and make them more compelling.
Oil bars encourage risk taking but can also produce accidents, as they are extremely direct way of making marks with a lovely, adnominally large waxy oil pastel. I wholeheartedly recommend giving them a try and being experimental.
The sketches below show a comparison of using oil bars and charcoal on the figures. The background on both studies is mixed media.
Have you used oil bars in your creative practice? Feel free to share your successes below.
Laura Owen’s exhibition at Sadie Coles HQ in London gives a broad overview of her current work. In her paintings, she uses a range of digitally created images and painted marks in abstract compositions. Laura Owens was born in 1970 in Ohio, she began her art career in the 1990s, more recently she opened her LA studio as an exhibition space called 356 Mission in collaboration with the art dealer Gavin Brown.
I was curious to learn more about Laura Owens’s work after I read that Laura Hoptman, a Curator of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA in New York believes she is a Caposcuola, (the founder of an artistic movement) due to the way she ‘assimilates digital languages into painting’. In this review I want to explore some of the ideas in her work, and consider her use of newspaper clippings, screen printed on canvas, cropped shapes with drop shadows and impasto mark, all combined into photoshop, and ask whether this is a worthy subject for painting?
Sadie Coles HQ offers an ample white space and second small second room for some of Laura’s notebooks. The large exhibition space with its white walls is an excellent backdrop for the busy paintings. The gallery is well lit, and the show includes a lot of work. If I had one criticism of this show, it would be that there is too much work to focus on. Viewing the exhibition starts well, but there is a repetitiveness of painted digital imagery, and after twenty or so large canvass the show as a whole feels overwhelming. I did wonder whether that was intended because it is so obvious.
I see Owen’s work as a way of creating a dialogue about the man-made visual world, and focusing on technology that turns everything into pixels and data. A visible world where we can find new ways to tune in through our portable devices which are constantly changing.
The use of technology in paintings originated with Pop Art, from Warhol’s screen prints to Hamilton’s and Blake’s collages took art in a new direction. Laura’s use of sources makes me think about Matisse’s cut-outs and his use of collage and the way a composition is composed of editing, refining and manipulating shapes. Laura’s pictures appear to be predetermined on the computer before they arrive on the canvas including the painterly gestures such as washes, dabs and swipes. I was curious whether there is a space for spontaneity in her process.
Owens method like Matisse, Hamilton’s and Blake’s is a form of semiotic play. There is a decorative element where a shape is cut out and put into a composition creating a visual rhythm and visual language. There is a laying of images on top of each other where the contrasting elements with particular colours and elements in space give the work a striking ambience.
The result is a play of tension and expansion to create dynamic pictures. It is a system for thinking about shape and composition and expanding the possibility of what we visually consume, which I find it exciting and playful. It is very visually engaging and brings up many questions about Laura’s reliance on printing techniques, where her ideas come from, and the freedom of viewer to make associations in a picture. As a result her work is undeniably a commendable subject for painting.
However, I believe that Laura’s work would be stronger if seen smaller doses as there are too many elements in the exhibition as a whole. I don’t feel the need to revisit the exhibition for repeated viewing as I do after seeing a Francis Bacon exhibition. Maybe this is because the compositions appear to be predetermined on photoshop, but possibly it is more to do with the overwhelming number of paintings on view.
Laura has created a vehicle to show what she sees, the work in the show is undeniably a visual sensation. Her work asks new questions about the most important kinds of processes of expression. One of the most interesting things about this exhibition and why I recommend seeing Laura Owen’s work is that it is a critique of abstraction and about seeing the things in between the obvious stuff.