I’ve focused a lot on my research report this week – I’m hoping that in my research I’m starting to form a plan, not just in terms of the dissertation but in terms of my practice in general. A lot of the ideas I’m coming across in research will definitely inform my future practice – I’m looking forward to finishing the report so that I can go back to creating more practical work and putting my paintings into the context of the viewer, the gaze and the image.
One thing I have started to work on is small collages. A big part of the issue I was having in my large painting was that I was trying to manipulate the image as I worked – I’m not sure if this is the best way to do things, or if it’s a valid part of the process. In some ways I think it creates a sort of detachment, because the focus is no longer on the image or scenario, but on the process of painting and creating a fictional environment. I’ve had a lot of success using collage in the past – I have the security of working from an image and using the paint to replicate/recreate it, but without the pressure of having to essentially ‘make it up as I go along.’
This is a little experiment I’ve been working on this week, again it’s a found image of my mum in her 20s. I find this helps me to work a lot better because it allows me to work objectively, but still with some personal connection.
I like being able to control colour, composition etc in a way isn’t final – like a sketch for a painting but with a bit more insight. The red board behind the paper images is what I plan to paint on – I’m not really sure of why its important yet, but the use of bright, unrealistic colours is something that keeps creeping into my work. I like that strangeness that occurs when an image is real, but not entirely true to life/abstracted in some way. Technically, I think it helps me to see the work as painting rather than copy, I don’t feel the same sort of pressure to get every detail right because there are areas of flat matt colours that add a new dynamic to the work.
After opting to do the 10,000 word research report option, I’m now really trying to focus on research rather than studio practice. I think although it will be more challenging, currently I’m considering a research based career if I decide to stay within the arts , so for me it will probably be better experience in the long run. I find research and writing very satisfying, and am interested to be able to go into more depth within my research report.
At the moment the research is a bit overwhelming. I went into a bit of depth in my proposal and suggested a few good starting points for further research, however the challenge is to find a focus as the basis for the essay and the questions it asks and answers. I looked a lot last year at Tableau and Fried’s writing on photography and Jeff Wall. More recently I’ve been looking at Lacan – I’m finding it a bit frustrating to extract much information out of the texts – it’s been very time consuming having to read around his works to be able to take much from them. Ultimately, I think it’s thrown me off course slightly, because in thinking about the gaze in relation to psychological ideas rather than to art/images in and of themselves, I’ve sort of created a broader area to research.
My plan for next week is to try and look at my essay plans, and maybe try to write some sort of framework so that my research stays relevant and I’m able to work it into the essay context.
One thing I’ve also been thinking about is the idea of the voyeur – Lacan makes a point about the scopic field in that you can be looked at from all angles, but see from only one. In a sense you are always being looked at by the world. One thing I thought about was the idea that when you walk into a shop/supermarket there is often a tv mounted to the wall playing cctv footage from a camera that’s on a different wall, so while you’re looking up at yourself on the screen, in the image you are looking elsewhere. The same applies to being on a webcam etc – a lot of the time you are looking at your ‘reflection’ on the screen, but because you’re looking not looking into the camera you can never make eye contact with yourself/the person you are talking to. I think this might be a good starting point for a piece of multimedia work, maybe going back and revisiting projection/the use of screens.
This is the progress I’ve made on my painting this week. I think I’ve managed to resolve some of the conflicts that were causing problems. The face of the man in the foreground was really off-putting – I worked it too much and it threw me off, so a tutor suggested that I start again. Now that this is sort of ‘fixed’ I’m finding it a lot easier to focus on the painting as a cohesive ‘thing’, looking at colour and composition. I can sort of see an end in sight now, but am a little bit daunted as I’m not dead set on what I’m going to continue with next. The single work has taken up a lot of time, so maybe in the future I’ll try to develop multiple things at the same time to keep things fresh/moving forward.
I’ve thought about trying to restrict myself with rules – I’m quite interested in working from collage. One of the reasons I struggled with the painting was finding the balance between representing the image accurately/realistically and not directly copying. I think a possible way to combat this would be to edit an image beforehand. I like the idea of altering reality a bit too, so taking figures from a real/mundane scenario and placing them somewhere else. Another thing I thought about was limited colour palette – one thing I found difficult working on this painting was trying to pick out colours from the original image and exaggerate, but it proved ineffective at first because the colours became very muddy. Subject matter itself is also something I’m concerned with – so far most of my photos have been found or incidental but with time as a factor I can’t wait for something to fall into my lap, so might have to consider staging photographs. Before, when I’ve done this, the results haven’t always been that good – but then maybe with my renewed research focus on the tableau this might actually be relevant.
Another element that I need to consider is the research report. I want to attempt the 10,000 word attempted essay because I feel quite confident with writing but obviously time management will be key. Currently I’m in the research and planning stages, but it all seems to be flowing well – I think setting targets and specific times to work on the report will be helpful, as I don’t want to be in a position where my practice takes precedence or vice versa.
I’ve resumed my painting this week, I’m struggling at the moment to create something that visually ‘works’ and that I’m happy with while also representing the original image and the eeriness I find in it.
This was the stage I was at at the start of the week, I quite liked the contrast between colours at this point, and the unfinished nature of the ground I think works well with the areas of solid colour. I was struggling quite a lot with the face of the man in the foreground, it becomes really difficult to pick out any sort of structure with the bright flash in the photo.
In my tutorial with Mark last week he mentioned RB Kitaj, and how his works often feature areas that look unfinished, which was quite reassuring because part of the problem I have is in making something substantial but not overworked.
I then made a mistake in trying to darken the background, which then became way too dark, and very brown – although I was trying to replicate the original image I think it looks very drab and the characters sort of sink into the wall.
I’m going to try and lighten these areas again – and after a chat with a tutor, I want to maybe restart the main figures face, just because it’s not working with the rest of the work and is a bit caricature-like. I’m still also a bit unsure as to what this painting is leading to. I definitely like working in this scale, but maybe try to set myself a time limit so I don’t fall into the trap of working too much into it.
In terms of new subject matter, I sort of want to take more photos, but then on the other hand I want to avoid staging images or having models pose, so it’s sort of a case of waiting for the right time and place, or maybe exploring more appropriated media. In my research I’ve been looking at ‘the gaze’ or ‘the look’ in relation to a subject, and have come across a lot about fetishism and scopophilia – its not something I’ve thought about before, but definitely something to consider. I have also been thinking a bit about the absence of a figure – I think there’s also something really fascinating about an empty room, and how even unoccupied you can feel an intruder in a space that is not yours. I don’t know where this is going as of yet or if it will link in with my current work but I can sort of sense that it might have some relevance.
Back into the studios this week, and trying to start working straight away, continuing on from last year. Over the summer I visited Wales and Dublin and visited a few galleries, and I think this reaffirmed that I definitely want to continue painting and exploring viewer/subject boundaries. I also really love the idea of documentation – of the everyday, incidental moments that make up my life. In the IMMA there was a show by Nan Goldin. I love the immediacy of her work and the incidental nature of her photographs, the obsessiveness in her need to document everything and everyone. In the exhibition flyer she discusses her photographic montage work, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. “The diary is my form of obsessively record every detail. It enables me to remember.”
Nan Goldin, ‘Gerald with bloody hand’
Nan Goldin, Sheep in abattoir, Rathmullen, Ireland, 2002
Nan Goldin, Vivienne at her mother’s grave, Killybegs, Ireland, 1979
This prompted lots of ideas about the relationship I have with the imagery I use in my work, what it depicts and whether it is taken as an observation or with a concept in mind. I work pretty exclusively from film and photograph, rarely having someone sit for me, so the origins of these photos is becoming increasingly important. I’m also really interested in the relationship I have with images that are unfamiliar to me/have not been taken by me as a lot of my paintings stem from self taken, deliberate photos rather than incidental ones.
I found a photo on my dad’s hard-drive that I found really interesting, in a folder just marked ‘2001’. It pictures a lot of his friends, some who I recognise, some who I don’t, at a party. The nature of the photograph is confusing – taken from a high angle like its documenting the scene rather than focusing on a person/action. All the people in the room are looking away, unaware of the bright flash, but one person in the foreground looks directly into the lens, about to pop or having just popped 2 party poppers. I don’t really know why but I just find it a really fascinating image, maybe because I feel a bit removed from it personally and I can’t place exactly what is happening. I think in the context of the tableau and the gaze its relevant too, the scene is very real and closed off, but then the direct eye contact sort of invites you in and creates a very direct confrontation with the viewer. I think really I might be reading a bit much into it, but to document this scene in a painting is something that I feel might bring forward other questions in my developing practice.
I chose to go quite large scale, (120 x 140cm) but limiting myself a bit because I haven’t worked in this size before and have no idea how long it will take me to complete. Over the course of this week the painting has taken shape, however I’m not quite sure I’m happy with it in its current stage. I’m trying to find a balance between realism and abstraction, on one hand I want the viewer to feel it is a real scene and that the people are actually distinguishable, but on the other I think on its own the picture is bland because of the dark colours. I think surface is also very important. My choice to paint the scene rather than just have the photograph as a piece on it’s own
Again this week I’ve mainly been handling work for submission and organising my essay. I’ve found the digital submission format quite challenging, I find that I prefer to keep a physical document of my work, including written work. For me it just feels more permanent like this, and more finalised. I find it easier to spot errors when documenting like this too, I’m a little bit concerned about submitting something digitally and having it get corrupted or not display like I want it to. Hopefully working in this way will improve my digital skill, and when it comes to handling proposals etc I will be more confident.
Also this week I helped one of my friends make an alginate head cast. The process took around an hour, and I was responsible for being moral support as well as making sure her airways/nostril holes remained clear.
I actually found the process quite intimidating, it was really surreal – because she could not talk, move her face, see etc, she became virtually inanimate. It’s impossible to tell whether or not she is comfortable; whether although she is still, she is mentally really claustrophobic. When she’d initially asked if I’d help her out I didn’t think much of it, but there was something really strange about talking to essentially a mask , I wasn’t expecting to feel so uncomfortable – I think most of it stemmed from lack of facial expression, you don’t realise how important a part of communication it is until it is removed.
Although I have virtually no experience in sculpture I was very interested with the process – as a painter of portraits I try to capture the essence of a person, whereas this is making an exact replica. It’s interesting to see the face, it does look like her but in some ways, doesn’t. It sort of draws your attention to the importance of colour and expression, it still looks an object, not a person.
This week I’ve been focusing on organising documentation for submission and completing my 1000 word research report proposal. I feel that this unit, although hasn’t been extremely productive in terms of physical work I’ve made individually, has directed my focus and made me more aware of the possibilities and challenges that come with collaborating.
In terms of my own studio practice, through researching and writing my proposal I’ve discovered points of interest that will allow my practice to develop beyond experimentation. Fried’s idea of the tableau has been particularly interesting – looking at how figures in a scene can interact with a viewer. There are different types of interaction, what Fried describes as absorption, where the artist creates a closed off scene where the subjects are not aware of the viewer. This creates an image that is more real, more true to life, and because of that the viewer feels as though they can relate and is engaged with the scene. In the late 1800s impression/realism bought a new dimension to this, where the artist deliberately faced subjects outward – essentially breaking the invisible wall between people in the painting and the person looking at them. Although at the time this was seen as pretty sacrilegious and painters like Manet were criticised for it, in my work I think it’s relevant to address the audience; I’m torn between thinking about candidness/possible connotations of voyeurism or having the subjects be quite confrontational. I’d like to address this more directly, making the viewer aware of the screen between them and the painting. While some of my work has sort of touched on it before, having done a bit of research I’m exited to explore the ideas more extensively.
One thing that has become obvious to me is the importance of scale in such works in creating a direct relationship between subject and viewer. I’m excited to work large scale on maybe some figurative painting next year when I’ve got a bit more studio space to work with. I think opportunities to exhibit will also be greater – bigger works make having a solo show in quite a large space possible.