Thursday, 10 November 2011

Sigmar Polk + Artaud



Sigmar Polk, Artaud: Two Drawings, late 1970's,
mixed mediums on paper, 136 x 239 cm



In 1994 I purchased a book that had a profound effect on the evolution of my painting and drawing.  It was written by Bernice Rose, then a senior curator at MOMA in New York.  Allegories of Modernism: Contemporary Drawing is a publication that documents some of the work of a large number of artists who could be seen as creating drawings in the Modernist/Postmodern idiom.
Its a volume that I find myself returning to time and again. One of the artists featured was Sigmar Polk who created the above drawing.  It was one of those rare times when one views a work of art (unfortunately only in reproduction) that violently grabs one in the gut and refuses to let go.  The reproduction in the book, slightly smaller than the one above, is, in real life, quite massive in size - a very large drawing.    What really drew me to this drawing was the mixture of messiness, fragmentation, primitiveness, appropriation, conventional drawing techniques, and mechanical/gestural mark making.  And the fact that it also referenced Artaud, an artist/writer that I was obsessed with for a very long time, also added to the conceptual depth and quality of the drawing.  This drawing opened up a range of possibilities for the future of my work that was immensely exciting.  

For myself, as someone who was initially trained in the ultra-consevative method of 'tonal realism' (Meldrumism), this book was an epiphany.  Along with Erle Loran's Cezanne's Composition, Kirk Varnedoe's Cy Twombly, and Mark Rosenthal's Anselm Kiefer, and many others.  And, of course, the poetry - George Seferis, Paul Celan, Dylan Thomas, T. S. Eliot, Ingeborg Bachmann, Sylvia Plath, Basho, Lorca, Rilke.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Frottage Technique - Paper

Graphite frottage example Graphite 2B - 20B on Arches 185gsm HP


Frottage Effects

frottage |frôˈtäZH|
noun
1 Art  the technique or process of taking a rubbing from an uneven surface to form the basis of a work of art.
• a work of art produced in this way.

The word frottage is a somewhat fancy term for taking a ‘rubbing’.  With paper – the artist places a blank sheet of paper onto a textured surface – tree bark, old floorboards, gravestone, etc., and rubs a pencil over the paper thereby obtaining a replica of the texture beneath it.

There are two techniques that I use with this procedure.  One is relating to paper and one to canvas.

Paper:  I use paper in the weight range of approximately 90 – 185 gsm (40 – 90 lb).  The heavier the paper the less sensitive it is to the frottage technique.  At the moment I am using Arches 185 gsm Hot Pressed (Hot Pressed is a very smooth paper), 56 x76 cm and achieving very satisfying results.  This is primarily a watercolor paper.  I am using 1/8 and 1/16 sheet sizes as, at this present time, I am enjoying creating small, intimate pictures.  I have also created drawings using an archival photocopy paper (90gsm) in a lovely cream off white.  This paper is extremely sensitive to frottage.  At some stage in the future I intent experimenting with Xaun (Chinese) paper which is, I think, about 27gsm.  Also Double Xaun and Triple Xaun.
I use graphite sticks about the thickness of ones index finger – snapped off to an appropriate length.  The softness of the graphite ranges from 2B – 9B in the sticks, and upwards to 20B in pencils.  I normally measure off an appropriate distance from the edge of the paper, and use masking tape to quarantine a border around the finished work.  With the 2B sticks I can achieve very suble grey effects.  With the 9B the results are far more dramatic.
Over the years I have been using one particular frottage board that measures approx. 610 x 450 x 5.5mm.  This is a piece of Masonite that I had cut from a larger sheet.  To create texture onto the board I have cut into it with a Stanley knife, cutting slightly at an angle so that one of the edges of the cut becomes raised.  Added drops of PVA glue, glued down bits of paper and other materials such as found bush land materials gathered when walking.  Seeds, pieces of fern leaves, small bits of twigs etc.  I have found that it is important not to have the texture elements sitting too high on the board.  When I rub the graphite over it I want to achieve a mark that is subtle and not to pronounced.   The board I am using is like an old friend.  I have created many, many drawings over the years on this board, and it has ‘matured’ beautifully, accumulating many additional bits of texture from accidents such as paint droppings, cuts etc.  Creating a frottage board is really only limited by ones imagination.  A section of this board can be seen as the title photograph to this blog.  The photograph was taken of a small more open section of the board.
I also use a ¼ sheet of Gatorboard as this gives me a very smooth surface to work over if I need to add tonal qualities to the drawing over its entirety.  Or smooth tonal areas in the drawing at some stage.
OK.  I have my paper masked off.  My pieces of graphite stick.  My frottage board – both smooth and textured.  I also have a range of mechanical pencils containing graphite in varying sizes (0.3, 0.5, 0.7, 0.9, and 2.0 mm. – mostly in 2B).  And a most important tool that I have yet to mention and this is a Sakura Electric Eraser.  With this I can erase into extremely heavy layers of graphite, something that would be impossible otherwise.  This is just a brilliant tool for these techniques.  And lots of hand wipes, the kind that pull out of the top of a plastic container.  Sometimes called Baby Wipes, these are also very important in keeping ones hands clean as the work progresses.
I work in layers with this technique, and normally start the first layer with the paper on the smooth Gatorboard, in order to get a tonal layer down and remove that beautiful off-white paper color.  I will then start working over the existing layer with a softer graphite that gives me a more intense tone.  And so on until
I use the graphite stick on its side and just move it gently (at this stage) over the paper to create a lovely tonal layer.  Even at this stage and on the smooth Gatorboard, I am picking up texture from the board.  I generally start with a 2B stick and then move up to 9B stick.  At some stage I will move onto the more textured Masonite board.  All the  time using the graphite stick on its side.  It is possible to make marks ranging from a light grey to very intense blacks.  To achieve very dark marks I used a plasterer’s scraper to scrape off graphite from the end of a stick onto the paper.  I then use the scraper to press the graphite scrapings into the paper to fix it so to speak, to create a graphite ‘blot’ of varying sizes and shapes, and also to scrape the excess pigment if the blot and then impress it some more to expand the mark in whatever direction I choose.  During this process I will make marks using the stick on its pointy end like a pencil.  I will make dots, linear markings, darker and suble tonal masses, use a mechanical pencil to bring to the fore shapes that have emerged as the work progresses, erase with the electric eraser sometimes subtly, sometimes more dramatically, gently fill in some of the erased areas to create a different type of mark.  Essentially my work in graphite is intuitive mark making, working in layers, and ending with a picture one could describe as a hybrid abstraction.
One of the reasons that I am so obsessed with this technique has to do with the quality of the mark.  It is almost as if the mark is embedded within the paper, and for me at any rate, this produces a 'naturalness' to the mark making that also has an 'indigenous' feel about it.  I can produce very mechanical marks alongside gestural mark making that 'sit' beautifully.
Of course, there is also soluble graphite in stick or pencil form.  In varying degrees of softness.  There is powdered graphite.  There is also a graphite paint called Derivan Liquid Pencil which is available in varying grades of light to dark, and in a sepia tone.
It is all very fun, and can be a meditative process and very relaxing.  It can also, like any art making, be extremely frustrating.


Untitled 101011, 2011, Graphite on paper, 28.7 x 19.3 cm (variable)

The work above is unfinished and has yet to be signed, titled and probably a short piece of my poetry added to the lower clear area.  The drawing was complete using only a 2B stick and only using Gatorboard as a frottage board.  The white 'sun' in the upper half of the picture appeared from an area on the Gatorboard that has suffered a ding.  The spots originated from what appears to be an accidental light sprinkling of acrylic polymer (Binder Medium) that I use as a glue for numerous applications.  The parallel lines were created by slots cut into the side of graphite stick.  There are numerous faint mechanical diagonals that always seem to appear when using this technique with Arches HP.  This must be something inherent in the paper that the graphite is picking up I think.
I am heading in an interesting direction at the moment, gravitating to a more minimalist aesthetic.  I have been reading Wes Mills, Alan Mitelman, and early Brice Marden, all of whom, at one time or another, embraced a minimalist ethos.




Friday, 23 September 2011

A few exhibition pictures.














All paintings are oil and acrylic on treated rag paper.  Albury Regional Art Gallery and Wangarratta Exhibitions Gallery.  Fun times.



Tuesday, 20 September 2011

A recent work.


Untitled, 2011, acrylic on canvas panel, 35.6 x 28.0 cm.

I had a lot of fun painting this little panel.  A very simple composition.  A not so meaningless abstract.  This is an unusual one in that I generally work from dark to light, using a black underpainting.  With this one I scrubbed on paint directly onto the white geeso, with a rag, then scraped it of with a plasterer's scraper, then scrubbed on more until I had achieved the underpainting I wanted.  Then added thicker colour, again with a plasterer's scraper.  I tend to add small amounts of the colours I want, dabbed randomly over the canvas, and depending on whether the painting is high or low key, or somewhere in between, I tease into it varying amounts of Titanium White.  After sitting back for awhile, or going away and returning to the painting later, final adjustments are made - a highlight perhaps, or a dark mark, or maybe a touch of a colour that is complementary to some aspect of the work.  I find this work to be quite beautiful.

The colours used are Prussian Blue, Permanent Alizarin, Olive Green, Arylamide Yellow Deep, Raw Umber and Titanium White.  I do have a preference for transparent colours.  The paint is Atelia Interactive.  I only ever use the aforementioned, and in oil, Archival Oils, also Jo Sonja folk paint which is a looser, more fluid acrylic gouache (compared to Atelia).  These paints are all manufactured by Chroma.  Excellent product.

I am definitely and finally moving away from the angst and trauma of the prison paintings.  It is a wonderful tyranny of distance that has eventually allowed me to cut, more or less, the remaining ties that were binding me psychologically to the past.  I don't think that I will ever be without the "black bile", but that is something that resonates back in time to my childhood.  Are we not all children of darkness and light?

Due to the limitations of my photographic process this work is somewhat darker in key than it is in reality.

I should acknowledge my debt to Phillip Guston (his early abstractions) and Cy Twombly - two world significant artists who are among many that has served as passive Muse's, so to speak, to myself over many years.

Monday, 19 September 2011

In Search of The Primal


The Wonderful Bunurong Coast close to Wonthaggi.


I am in love with our local coastline.  Even on stormy days!  Probably more so on stormy days!



Anderson Inlet near Inverloch


Bass Coast Artist Society


Bass Coast Artist Society Clubhouse

Had a terrific time today at BCAS.  Every Monday is the open studio day where local artists gather to create art, socialise, listen to some fine music, have lunch together and enjoy anything to do with painting or drawing.  It was a rather quiet day - only four of us in attendance.  This was ok though, less chaotic, and plenty of room to set-up.

I decided to continue on with a series I am doing in graphite.  These drawings will contribute to my next solo show.  The theme/concept I am working within is described by the following:  Black Mountain: A Metaphysical Landscape.  This is also going to be the title of my next show.  Black Mountain for a number of conceptual reasons.  These are hybrid abstract drawings done with a variety of graphite sticks of varying thickness, length and softness (2b - 20b), mechanical pencils also of varying diameter and softness.  I use two boards upon which to make the work.  A smooth 1/4 sheet of Gator Board and a larger Masonite board that I have been using for many years now.  This frottage board has many varying marks on its surface, from where I have cut into it with a craft knife, and other marks where I have glued various materials onto the surface - in order to provide a surface that is very responsive to frottage (rubbing).  I may frame it one day as the surface is becoming very interesting.  Its strange how one becomes attached to something one uses for creating work.  I just love this beat and battered old board.


Work bench at BCAS with three completed
drawings at top, slightly left of centre.

I completed three drawings.  The first was more or less a warm-up and a little disappointing.  Problem was, I think, that there was some very beautiful music on that put me in too much of a "nice" zone.  So I slapped in the ear buds and booted up the iPod for some Lisa Gerrard.  Her album was Immortal Memory, and it was just what I needed.  Very gothic and noir, sending me to cavernous mountain halls within a tall, massive and empty castle, surrounded by a cold, snowy and deserted landscape.  Ohh, so yummy.  I finished two more drawings during which everything became very intense.  I am using Arches hot pressed water-colour paper in 185gsm.  This weight is about the heaviest I can go and still maintain a sufficient sensitivity to the frottage technique with graphite.  I have used Stonehenge 245gsm (treated with acrylic polymer front and back) successfully using acrylic or oil paint, again using a frottage technique with plasterer's scrapers.

I haven't been able to develop a technique in order to photograph these works effectively.  The results are always either to harsh (missing out on the subtleties of the drawing), or not definite enough.  Very annoying. All in all, though, I had a great time with some wonderful friends  :)

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Black Bar



Diseased Prison 2003.  Oil on acrylic on treated rag.
178 x 128.6 cm


The Black Bar.  An Explanation - written in 2004
Division, Displacement, Alienation, and War seem to the conditions that will carry this present time through to whatever conclsion there exists for it in the future.  One of the uses of the black void at the top of most my pictures is for me that question mark.  What does the future hold?  And does it really matter to think on it; too much?  The Black Bar, disconnected from the immediate picture, is the impenetrable blackness of unknowingness.
The Black Bar, combined with the under-painting, of which it is part of, is an acknowledgement of my own problems with depression over the years.  If the skin of the picture could be used as a metaphor for the artist’s skin/body/psych then the frottage that breaks through in places could be read as the breaking apart of the persona, both physically and psychologically.
It is also a commemorative symbol for myself of the disaster that happened at Aberfan in South Wales on 21 October, 1966 and the wall of black sludge that swept down a mountainside killing 144 people, 116 of them children.  A disaster that I was personally and intimately involved in and a force that has had a considerable effect on my own life since.
Its use as a stabilizing mechanism for the composition of the picture should be acknowledged.

My painting happens intuitively, the work itself dictating the realization of its forms.
This manner of working persistently determines its outcome and as a general consequence, it’s content.
One strategy I use to overcome this is to have a range of subject matter (life experience) and knowledge of as many political issues as possible, that one can pick out, so to speak, and endeavor to insert into the work at some stage during its gestation.
This past year war, imprisonment, division, displacement, violence, fear and dishonesty seems to have occupied the moral ground of not only Australia’s leaders, but the leaders of some of the major nations of the world, overriding it seems to me, any sense of fairness, compassion, and tolerance  that should be the cornerstone of any democracy.
This past ten months I have attempted to create pictures that encompass not only extensions of my prison work, but illustrate my personal fear for the future of this planet and its inhabitants.  Division of the picture as a major compositional component in many of the works can be seen as a metaphor for the division of a country or countries whether it be on religious or political grounds or both.  I am concerned with the effects of global warming, and the experiments in genetics, all of which will have vital implications for the future of our society, and the world at large.
Displacement and alienation - refugees arriving on our shores and the effects of long term imprisonment on these innocent people.  What government leader who would call himself a Christian could be so devoid of compassion as to send innocent children into these prisons (detention centers) for years at a time.
It has always been a most difficult intention to attempt to insert some of the above contents and others, such as Aboriginal concerns, into paintings that are created intuitively by someone as myself with a passion for gestural abstraction, for incongruity, for lumps and scabs of paint, for a general Art Informel type of modus operandi.  But, succeed or fail, it is always a wondrous journey.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Breaking Through the Wall


Road to Upfcuk.  2004.  Acrylic and wax oil crayon
on treated J.A. Dessin.  149.3 x 111.4 cm.

So there I was in 1998 in my rented studio trying and failing to get some of my feelings, emotions, and narrative OUT and into my paintings.  To no avail.  After 6 months of trying and failing to achieve what I wanted in relation to my experiences in the prison system, I was at the stage where I was snapping brushes, kicking over furniture and hurling various objects into the wall in frustration.  I felt that I just couldn't do it.  On one particular day I finally calmed down and thought things through.  I came to a decision that if I couldn't find a way through this dilemma, I was going to quit painting.

I decided to go back to fundamentals.  What do I enjoy about painting?  What is fun about this activity?  And I knew the answer immediately.  I really enjoyed just messing around with paint.  Seeing how it reacts with different techniques.  And that is what I did.  I forgot about trying to force paintings out with regard to content.  I removed myself from the prison mentally in relation to my work.  I essentially became a child again.  Finger painting, splashing paint on, using watery techniques and creating pools and runs - all the really yummy stuff.  Painting without looking at the canvas or paper.  And stuff started happening.  Strange abstract and semi-abstract painting and drawings began appearing.  I began creating works that were immensely pleasing.  I spent many hours researching online, purchasing art books, on theory, monographs on artists that I felt I had an affinity with.  Haunting the local and Tafe libraries.  Cezanne and Fred Williams, Cy Twombly, Ansel Kiefer, Polk, De Kooning and others.  I found that the art writer Thomas McEvilley made a lot of sense to me.  In particular his book The Exiles Return: Toward a Redefinition of Painting for the Post-Modern Era.  Through Cy Twombly I found poetry - and another great joy opened up.

In 2000 I entered and was a winner in the Albury Art Prize.  In 2001 I was accepted into Monash University to undertake a Post Graduate Diploma in Visual Art.  Then straight into, and completed, a Master of Visual Art.  Life was and is really really good!  There are plenty of ups and downs, failed paintings, life problems etc., but with my lovely wife Kaye, and two young daughters Kathleen and Hannah, a cat and a dog, and the occasional goldfish - what more could a bloke want - yeah, I know, lots and lots of money :)

Exhibition Visit - Gecko Studio Gallery.


Exhibition of Pen Drawings by
Malcolm Pettigrove
Shown at Gecko Studio Gallery, Fish Creek,
Gippsland.

Kaye and I had a lovely drive down to Fish Creek today, in order to view the above exhibition at the Gecko Studio Gallery. Its about 45 mins easy drive through some very lovely countryside. Malcolm Pettigrove is a very fine artist and master of pen drawing. It is a very wonderful body of work. Lots of drawings of varying sizes. He basically uses a tiny curvilinear hatching to create the form and modelling in his work. Some of his work, I believe, almost touches the sublime. And for myself, at any rate, the two chops, used as a compositional element, really elevate the drawings. Just that touch of red, amid the monochrome, gives me the shivers down the spine. The mounting and framing for this show, also done by the gallery, was first class.  Really enjoyed this show. Inspiration, oh yeah baby! Can't wait for the next one at this gallery.

Gecko Studio Gallery is something of a revelation. It is located kind of a long way from any major population centre in a very small township, yet its full of wonderful, very high quality artworks, with very reasonable prices. The gallery has a small stock of artist quality materials, and also a framing workshop that produces conservation quality framing. I finally managed to find a bottle of Indian Ink, which is something I have been searching for locally, for a long time.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

A Very Short Primer on Prisons.




The strangely named 'circle box' (centre) from which the day to day, and hands on 
running of the prison is conducted.

I don't know how many times I have heard the stupid mantra "It must be like a holiday camp inside those prisons" (or words to that effect), referring to, of course, the fact that prisons have swimming pools, tennis courts, and other additions that are meant to make the prisoner's lot easier.

Point 1:  The only form of punishment in Australian prisons is 'loss of liberty'.

Point 2:  Don't kid yourself - a prison is an unnatural and frightening place for anyone and in particular, for the large majority of its clients.  Imagine having to look over ones shoulder 24/7 while experiencing, at one time or another,  other prisoners being stabbed, beaten-up, suiciding, raped, slashing-up, set up by corrupt screws, and brutalised by psychotic prison officers.  And other worse things.  I don't mean for this piece of writing to be an advertisement for prison reform - I am just telling it as I experienced it.


Painting


Todesfuge 2004  Oil and marble dust on acrylic
on treated rag.  149.0 x 111.4 cm

Painting, it seems to me, is a never-ending quest to achieve the unachievable – the unachievable being that which is defined by a personal fusion of content, form, aesthetics, political concerns, technique, narrative, composition, and use of color.  Although I believe that I have achieved some milestones in this quest I also believe that it holds true that the more one learns, the more one realizes how truly ignorant one really is.

I spent 13 years working in the Victorian Prison System (AU) and in 1998 I took early retirement along with a work related injury.  For nearly three years prior to that, myself and my family were in a legal battle with/against the Justice Dept. regarding a range of issues which I won't go into at this point in time.

I started painting and drawing in 1990, had private tuition in oils, did several years of part-time Tafe art courses until 1995 when the proverbial hit the fan, so to speak.  I was seeing a number of medical practitioners after having been diagnosed with PTSD.  The psychologist I was seeing encouraged me to continue with my art which I did, and once all the legal stuff regarding the prison was out of the way, I was able to resign from the job and began working full time on my art at a very inexpensive rented studio at the local university.