Emily Goldsmith: Having seen a couple of images of new paintings for your upcoming exhibition, I’d like to ask you about control in your work. What does the notion of controlling a painting mean to you?
Marc Blake: For me, painting or art making is a fairly difficult thing to explain. In terms of the kind of person or artist I am, the more I live and experience, the better my work becomes. I am always looking to art history, at what other people have done before me and how I think I may be able to continue and add to at least some part of what they achieved. In this way a great deal of painting comes from the past, in terms of continuing a tradition or legacy, a kind of unbroken line back through all cultures and societies to the beginning. These days I think there is a real split between art that is only about other art, or exploring what art can be, versus art that also attempts to communicate something more directly about being alive. About living. For me, I am closer to the latter approach, but that doesn’t mean I think either of them is more valid or important. Control is a difficult thing to approach, I have gone through periods of painting in which I wanted to be almost free of control and other periods where it was important to almost remove accident from the equation as much as possible. These days I have come to understand that the less of an idea I have about how a work is going to conclude the better. In life you quickly realise that there are certain things we can control, or at least like to be able to think we are in control of, yet there is also the flip side that so very much is beyond our control. Just open to chance and circumstance, timing, whatever. For this reason, my painting needs to reflect both of these conditions.
E.G: Can you tell me how these latest works have evolved, or at least something about the process?
M.B: At the moment I am doing works where the first real step is to more or less freely pour very thin washes of colour or pigment onto the surface of the wood. By continuing to add more water and other colour, everything moves very slowly across the surface, swirling and fusing or separating until eventually drying. During this process I have very little control, although I am at least able to tilt the work somewhat or dab areas if something suggests itself. The other day I was working outside and while the paint was still wet it started to snow lightly, the resulting snowflakes landing in the wet paint left a pattern and texture that was unplanned, random and essentially impossible to replicate. In this sense I had no control other that making a decision to leave the painting outside. Through doing this I was able to actually incorporate the very notion of an uncontrollable external force into the work itself.
E.G: And then once this initial phase has dried?
M.B: For a number of years I used to look at the woodgrain and use this as a suggestion for how to colour and make a landscape in the work. With the new works, once all these washes of colour have dried, the pattern and form they leave in the wood is now what I look at to try and find the basis of the landscape. I am able to make forms of mountains, sky, water, whatever, from the fairly uncontrollable process of simply pouring water and colour onto the wood. I realised I missed this whole side of making a work, where I can just look at it and in a sense be directed by it in terms of what to do next.
E.G: Because you live and work somewhere where the natural landscape is so dominant, we’ve spoken a couple of times about how this affects your painting.
M.B: Essentially I don’t want to make works that are about some place in particular. Absolutely the landscape of anywhere I’ve been in my life informs the works, but I don’t want to try and sum up anywhere. Capture anywhere, or try to be the guy who paints a certain place. If I have memories of a place I’ve been, then that place is always relevant to me, it’s a part of who I am. If something stands out or triggers that memory it will come into the work at some point. It’s hard for me in a way, trying to make paintings about a state of being, rather than any specific place. It demands a certain amount of letting go from both myself and the viewer. I’m trying to make a painting that is open to interpretation and grows with you, is never one thing forever. Not just a single gag, or a single place, or a single time, or single way to see. As strange as it seems, the internet is now a landscape for people too, somewhere most of us visit fairly frequently almost every day. The way you can jump from time to time and place to place on the internet, makes it very unique. It’s a lot like our thought process really, the way we can go between remembering the past or imaging the future in a matter of seconds. Or the way one moment we can be dreaming of something so fantastical and then suddenly be awake lying in bed. I’m trying to show all of these things happening at once.
E.G: So in that sense you’re not trying to capture a certain place, or a certain memory and present that to the viewer; something that can be easily summed up.
M.B: Right. But I’m also not trying to be deliberately obscure or difficult. And because I have spent my life in various parts of the Asia Pacific region, then a lot of that visual language comes through. I hope there is something in every work that when people really take a bit of time to look at it, they can relate to it in a whole new way, no matter where or who they are. I just think that so much of our life is spent either in thoughts, or online, or in dreams, or in situations that seemingly come out of nowhere, that this in itself is a new landscape. As such, because I am a painter and have this connection to painting history, I want to use paint to show this.
E.G: So you’re painting this new landscape.
M.B: Yeah I am and in a sense I always have been. I can’t just try and do something as well as, or better, than someone else has done before me. I have to follow exactly what path I am on and trust that. If nothing else, I want people to see a whole new side of painting and communication that comes from the time we live in.