Q + A – April 2014

Emily Goldsmith – So the last time we spoke you were in Busan, now you’ve been back in NZ for a while, how do you think that time over there has shaped your work?
Marc Blake – I think those 6 months in Busan really gave me some time to experiment in the studio and free myself up from certain things that were starting to run their course in my painting.
EG – The large work ‘Road Dog’ was the final work you completed over there?
Marc Blake – Road Dog (2013) Acrylic, graphite and colour pencil on board. 120 x 144cm

 – Yeah it was the last work I did there, but I actually shipped it back in pieces and then assembled it back in Auckland to enter in an award.
EG – And how do feel about that work in particular?
MB – As a work on it’s own I really like it, it feels like a culmination of a lot of things I’d done over the past years and has quite a personal significance for me in that way, plus a kind of nostalgic connection to working in Busan.  It was light hearted and a bit of a joke in terms of the subject, but after that work things took quite a jump forward in a lot of ways.
EG – I can see that obvious progression since you’ve returned to NZ, but in what way specifically do you think this happened?
MB – Well technically one of the main things that happened was starting to use glazes of paint and experimenting with acrylic mediums.  That’s shifted a lot of how I could layer colour and keep a kind of translucency at the same time.
EG – And what about the wood grain?  The importance of that in your work seems to have really shifted.
MB – Yeah but that had been happening for a long time.  I started doing works specifically with the wood grain in Japan in 2005 and then really investigated that a lot since I moved back to NZ in 2007 onwards.  It reached a point where the significance to me about working on wood was not so much about the visual qualities any more.  Plus since then I’ve seen a couple of other painters in NZ using wood grain in their work and honestly I just don’t like it and don’t want to be associated with that kind of thing.  Wether or not they saw my stuff first I don’t know, but I’ve been exploring the qualities of painting on a specific kind of wood for almost ten years and that whole time it was evolving towards something else.  I think that’s the difference with what I’m doing, it’s never going to stay the same, I’m wary of all these traps that pop up.
EG –  But the grain is still there in your new work.
MB – Yes is it, but less and less and also it’s more of a concept to me now, not just a physical thing.  Plus I’ve been doing a few lately where the grain is totally covered.
EG – So does that mean the work is going to be more like a canvas painting?  Why even work on wood still if that’s the case?
MB  Because I still use the physical texture and surface hardness of wood a lot, particularly in how I transfer images, which we’ve talked about before.
EG – Do you think you’ll ever use canvas?
MB – I don’t know.  But if it’s something that happens, it will just happen like everything else I do.  It won’t be a matter of just deciding to be a different painter for the sake of it.
EG –  What did you mean when you said you’re wary of traps?  What kind of traps?
MB – Just these things that come along in the work and then suddenly they’ve roped you into having to always incorporate them in what you do and they end up owning you.  Like painting a specific way or specific subject or whatever.  Oh he’s the wood grain guy, or she’s the pink flowers girl or whatever.  All that stuff is a dead end to me, endlessly repeating the same thing like facsimiles of themselves.
EG – So is wood becoming a trap to you?
MB – Not it’s not.  But if and when it does, you’ll see!
EG –  Why do you think some artists seem to become facsimiles of themselves as you put it?
MB – I don’t know.  I can see how on one level a constant investigation of something can go on for years and maybe even a lifetime, which is totally understandable, but I really see so many people making what feel like just copies of their own work.  Change for change’s sake is bad, but then so is repetition for repetition’s sake.  I know everyone has their way of doing things, but if I felt I was just in this never ending loop of work I’d probably have to stop.  I mean I’m not sure they’re thinking that way or not.  Maybe one factor is a commercial success that comes from one specific way of working and it seems like something to keep doing, something the market associates with and you become that guy.  Makes sense I guess, but it feels like the ideas and art has stopped and the painting and the routine of it has just taken over.
EG –  I’d like to talk a bit about two works you’ve done lately.  The first is titled “Evanescent”, which I actually had to look up in the dictionary to find out what it meant; 1. the process of vanishing or fading away.  2. the condition of being transitory.
That word seems to really encapsulate so much about what I feel comes through in your work.  This kind of feeling of things coming in out of reality or dream or memory, especially in the work you’ve been making since Korea.  I know you said it helped you to experiment and free things up while you were there, but I think there’s more to it.
Marc Blake – Evanescent (2014) Acrylic on board. 86 x 90cm

MB – Yes something definitely pushed me in a new direction while I was there, but I don’t know what it was.  It might be something I can understand after more time maybe.
EG –  That work ‘Evanescent’, as well as the large forest works you did last year have a whole new quality about them.  It’s almost like they are this strange combination of being abstract and also quite realistic at the same time.
MB – Yeah that’s completely true and is something I’ve really been trying to do.  I want these works to almost disappear when you’re not looking at them directly and then almost manifest into representation when you focus on them.  But I have to add that this just doesn’t work at all when you look at photos of them or jpegs or whatever.  In fact hardly anything about my work translates well onto a computer screen.
EG – And is that good or bad?
MB – Well it’s both really.  Good in the sense when people see the actual works they are able to see how much it changes with the light and their positions and viewing angle and everything, but bad in the sense that 99% of people will just see a flat photo of the work and never really get what’s actually happening.
EG –  That title really suits that work in particular.  It has such a fading, nostalgic feel to it, which is at once almost photo-realistic and then also almost disappearing before your eyes.
MB – Yeah it does.  But it’s a slightly cheesy word though too, so it’s a fine line.  That work is based on an image from Narita, Japan and at least to me it really has that feeling I got in Japan and Korea very often of this kind of timelessness, a sort of feeling that the historic has merged with the contemporary and created this other world, especially in the afternoon or morning sunlight.  Plus that figure has a kind of melancholic isolation about him, a loneliness.  Some people have said he’s kind of ghosty or ethereal, but it’s not that to me, it’s more of just a moment when you are alone in a new place and it feels like everything fuses into something else.
EG – I think it is also because with these recent works, the figures have been left without clear detail or definition, which is something that separates them a lot from your previous works.  It’s almost like ‘Road Dog’ built this painted figure up to it’s peak and then after that you completely stripped it away.
MB – That’s exactly right, ‘Road Dog’ was this total personality and ego and character and after that I wanted all of those things to disappear.  I just wanted a kind of void in the works that a viewer could almost transport themselves into or just see the figure as the bare essentials of what they needed to be – a child, an adult, a man or a woman.  No races or emotions or anything else.
EG – The final work I wanted to ask you about is the new small one, ‘The First Night After the Last Night’.  It’s based on the dark flat background and seems completely different in that you can barely make out any idea that it’s painted on wood.
Marc Blake – The First Night After the Last Night (2014) Acrylic on board 48 x 40cm

MB – Yeah that is the latest one I’ve done and it’s more of a test really.  I’ve been wanting to do works based entirely on dark grounds for ages and again it’s just a matter of finally trying it and getting out of traps like I have to leave some of the wood grain visible.  But really it’s a matter of me learning how to get the right way of painting these dark grounds, I don’t want them to be totally flat so I actually do want some kind of grain or something else there, and if not grain then at least some kind of layering within the paint itself.  It looks very black in the photo but it’s actually a mixture of blues and blacks and has micaceous particles in it that catch the light, which pretty much all of my works have and again that’s something you can’t see on a computer.
EG – That work has an interesting atmosphere, particularly because of the colours.  It has a kind of eeriness even though the actual subject, which I think is just a mother and daughter at the beach, is quite light.
MB – Yeah it is quite eerie and I wanted that, a sense of foreboding and especially on the mother’s face, like she understands the reality of this situation that they are now in.   All of my works actually have an eeriness to them, even if it’s not so obvious in certain ones.  I think that’s a very important aspect of my work, something that feels a bit off, like it’s not just simply the picture itself, but it’s something else and something that’s within you.  I’m using landscape painting to try and show human ideas and that’s something I’ve always done.