Clearing (2017)

Clearing_2017_Studio_Marc_Blake_painting

Clearing_2017_marc_blake_painting

Marc Blake.  Clearing (2016-17) Acrylic on board. 150 x 120cm

This work went though half a dozen or more radically different stages.  It began in 2016 as an all over landscape based upon aspects of my local environment in terms of paintings I did from 2007 – 2012.  It was then almost totally sanded away, left as is, restarted in a different way, sanded, left out in my carport for a few months, started again, abandoned outside again and then about a month ago, finally brought back in to the studio once more.

At that point the work was mainly just a light pinkish colour, with large lupin flowers in the bottom third.  I covered over the entire work freely and without consideration using a variety of colour and paint, before finally deciding to sand it back once again.

The result is a work, which to me at least, is a kind of combination between two American painters who influenced me in different ways at the very beginning of when I started to paint; Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

Faint ghosts of the lupin flowers from the earlier iteration can still be seen in the work and with them, what also appears to be fragments of hundreds of other images.   Yet aside from the remnants of those flowers, there is not a single representational image in this work that was directly painted.  Through controlling the sanding process as much as I am able to, as well as allowing multiple accidents or unexpected results to happen, the resulting surface contains an almost infinite amount of detail.  Within this detail , the viewer is free to imagine images as they “see” them, much as is the case with the rhythmic forms in Pollock’s “Mural” (1943), and in a different way, the representational elements in many of de Kooning’s works from the 1950s.

Like those artists, I applied many, many layers of paint in this work, however, it was in the subsequent varying degrees of removing the majority of this pigment and undoing the brushstroke, that the true nature of what I am trying to do, is able to emerge.

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Q + A – July 2016, part 2

2016 7 31a Marc Blake paintingWork in Progress.  (Left) 30 July 2016, (Right) 31 July 2016

Emily Goldsmith:  So in continuation from part 1 yesterday, of course the painting you were working on has utterly transformed yet again.  Can you talk us through this somehow?

Marc Blake:  Well I went to bed last night thinking that the painting had reached a certain point where it had communicated enough to me.  I’d made enough of a kind of story about it and tried out some stuff and then I woke up this morning and it was lightly snowing.  So I put the painting outside and covered it in water and poured paint over it and the snow fell on it for a while and then I rubbed moist of it off and sanded and added more colour.

E.G:  I’m sure there is a case in thinking that you should just leave the painting as it was, that many people would have found something of interest in how it was yesterday.  How about just starting a new one?

M.B:  Well ultimately, for better or worse it’s just how I work.  There are many points along the way when someone will see the painting and like whatever stage it’s at, but then equally I’m guessing there are people who will like it more at yet another stage.  Trying to please everyone is pointless, trying to fit into a market, or clique, or whatever equally so.  I’m just trying to resolve and express an idea, or ideas, through paint.  It leads me where it leads me.

E.G:  How about you?  Have you ever regretted sanding back or covering a work?

M.B:  Yeah a few times.  But then those were only just paintings that I liked the look of for whatever reason.  They looked good on their own, in their own right, as one-offs in a  way.  They weren’t works that suggested new possibilities, or ways forward.

E.G:  Like those ‘dead ends” you talk about?

M.B:  Yeah exactly.  Only liking a painting visually is never enough for me, it has to challenge me and push me forward, have something in it that says I’m on the right track.  There’s more than enough painters out there who seem to crack onto a winning subject and then endlessly repeat the same thing.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, everyone is different, it’s just impossible for me.

E.G:  So speaking of repeating things, this question is asked a lot, “what is painting today and is it still relevant?”

M.B:  That old chestnut.  I think it’s the kind of question that painter’s have no business concerning themselves with.  Painting is everything from decoration, to wallpaper, to movies, to high art these days.  Then even within painting as art there are thousands of different approaches.  There is no dominant school of painting any more, despite how much certain galleries want to push the idea.  The internet has long since made that whole idea redundant.

E.G:  In what way?

M.B:  There’s just too much going on and now it’s possible for everyone to know it and see it instantly, whenever they want.  Seeing the work in the flesh is of course so much different than seeing a 3cm Instagram pic on your phone, the experience is completely different, but even still, ideas can be communicated so quickly.  As a visual art, painting adapts and it still works.

E.G:  How does it work?

M.B:   Well I can really only talk about how it works for me, I’m sure other people have different ideas.  So I can talk about what happens when I see a painting by someone that affects me in a good way.

E.G:  What happens?

M.B:  It communicates something to me.  Possibly in line with what the artist was thinking, possibly not, possibly both, but it communicates to me and it feels like it’s doing it in a way that is both in terms of language and also something beyond it.  It’s communicating to me what it means to be alive, to be human, to be conscious and on the earth at this point in time.  And it’s doing all this in something static and visual.  What I don’t like is painting that just looks like art.

E.G:  So that’s as a viewer, what about as a painter yourself?  What is the way a good painting affects you as an artist?

M.B:  The best feeling I can ever have when I see a painting is a kind of humbling admiration.  Like they’ve cracked it, cracked the code.  That feeling when I see a painting and I instantly want to get back in the studio, not to incorporate their work into mine, or be directly influenced by it or whatever, but that it encourages me to make even better work.  To pick up my game.  However, I have to say that rarely happens these days.

E.G:  Is there another active painter who you feel influences you particularly, or whose work has a kind of kinship or whatever for you?

M.B:  No.  But that’s not to say I don’t enjoy or admire other artists, because of course I do.  It’s just that my approach to painting has followed such a path that I don’t really concern myself with what other people are doing around me.  I’m glad that they’re doing it for sure and I respect anyone who’s succeeding as an artist, I’m just not interested in being especially influenced by other working artists out there.  Constantly looking at art results in a myopic, insular view.  I’m more interested in looking at what has been done over the history of painting and somehow trying to add to that and incorporate the current experience.   I read reviews and with some specific painters there’s always a mention of other contemporary painters in their review, like they are a “version” of someone else.  That would really bum me out to read that all the time.  All that says to me is that they are still trying to work through what is probably a pretty heavy influence.

E.G:  So how do you work through an influence?

M.B:  That’s a good question, I’m not sure.  I guess it’s different for everyone, but really it just has to be through your own painting.  Somehow reaching a point where you go beyond always having to surround yourself with other people’s images and trying very hard to desperately be like someone else and wanting what they have.  My approach to learning about art and becoming an artist was to go and live in a country where the tradition and art history really spoke to me the most, and then to stay there and make work until I understood why.  But of course that’s just me.  I had friends at art school and it didn’t appeal to me at all.  I’m not anti art school, I think it is really important for certain people and knowing about art history and ideas is vital, I’m just anti the idea that art school is the only way.  Just in my case, I never considered being an artist as something that could come through graduating an academic course.  My art is from experience, about experience.  That’s the only way I know.  Each to their own.

E.G:  When you compare the painting you were working on yesterday, versus what it is today, it’s like you’ve almost purged yourself of imagery.  There were at least a dozen, very graphic images in the work yesterday and now there is just the barest hint of faint imagery remaining.

M.B:  Yeah I’m slowly learning that freedom of idea is a big part of it.  Having the freedom to put in whatever images I like during the making of a work is quite liberating.  There’s no pressure to keep anything, or to make the work stay the same forever.  Sometimes it’s fun to be literal for a while or make up stories, who cares.  I’m realising that time is becoming a key aspect of what I do, allowing time into the work in as many ways as I can.  Giving up attachment and fighting the ego.  Having fun, being serious when I need to be be and carefree and idiotic when I need to be.

E.G:  Is there the danger of working on it for ever?

M.B:  Yeah I thought about that and it’s funny.  But I use pretty thin wood, so eventually I’d just end up sanding it into dust.  That may be what I’m doing when I’m 80.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q + A – July 2016, part 1

Emily Goldsmith:  With The New Landscape exhibition, you had some of the brightest, or at least most densely coloured paintings you’d ever done.  Then it seemed you almost obliterated that way of working, stripping things down to the point of almost nothing.  Now again, with perhaps the most recent works I think you’ve started to come back in a way.

Marc Blake:  I had a couple of works in my studio that I hadn’t included in that show and even though I liked aspects of them, I wasn’t really happy with them as a whole.  This led to me sanding them back almost entirely as usual, except with these ones, what I started to like was how it looked with parts of the paint completely sanded away and other parts still remaining.  I’d done variations of this kind of thing for many years, but never really in this way, or to this extent before.  What happened was that the remaining pigment sort of half suggested a landscape and half become just a kind of abstract background in a way.

E.G:  I think the first one, and I know you’ve talked about his before, was the basketball hoop painting based on the park next to your house.

M.B:  Yeah that work was like a kind of accidental revelation, the whole way through making it was like a constant series of accidents that seemed to work together.  From how the landscape revealed itself after being sanded back so intensely, to accidentally pasting the image of the basketball hoop on to a photo of the work in progress in Photoshop.  It was sort of the peak of making a painting that was very much based on my immediate environment, but it all happened in such a haphazard and free-associative way.  In a sense that work was so perfect for me, but at the same time it was a kind of dead end, there was no way I could really reproduce that again.

E.G:  In what way specifically?

M.B:  I mean every now and again I stumble across an image, like the basketball hoop in the park across the road, that is packed with so much kind of meaning and association, both personally and collectively, that’s like a one-off.  The way forward is to either keep using that image for ever, or try and think of another one that has a similar impact, or else change direction entirely.  I decided to change direction because the other two ways are dead-ends for me.  But rather than completely change, I went back in a way to what I was doing in all the works for that last show and with many other paintings before that over the years.

E.G:  We have three images I want to ask you about and see what connection there may or may not be towards them.  The first is, “Second Sun” from 2015 and then “Pacific” and the newest one you’re still working on at the moment.

Second Sun

Marc Blake.  Second Sun (2015) Acrylic polymer, colour pencil, pigment ink on board. 75 x 60cm

E.G:  With “Second Sun”, there are several figures and trees and few other things that are fused into the paint in a kind of swirling, neon dreamscape.  There’s no clear realistic intent with the work, it appears almost completely abstract from a distance and the pigment is intense and sitting on the surface of the board.

M.B:  Yeah like we’ve talked about before, pouring all those very thin layers of colour on at the start of the work enabled me to give up so much control.  I had no real idea how it was going to end up when it dried.  Even though I could manipulate it a little along the way, it was more of less just down to wind and sun and gravity.   Once the layers dried, I could then start to imagine a kind of landscape and gradually, one by one, figures or whatever would start to suggest themselves and I’d  look for pre-existing images from any source to try and best convey those ideas.

E.G:  You’ve always used pre-existing images.

M.B:  Almost exclusively in everything since about 2008.  That doesn’t mean to say the painted image necessarily comes out looking anything like the original source – sometimes it does, usually it’s completely different.  The only thing I care about is that a pre-existing image served as the starting point.  Photos, things from other paintings, graphics, drawing, trawling the internet, whatever.  Ultimately it’s all the same to me.  A way to take something that already exists in the world and bring it directly into the context of the work.

E.G:  With “Pacific”, the intense pigment as well as the imagery has been almost completely removed or obscured, almost gesturally, or violently.

Marc Blake.  Pacific (2016) Acrylic polymer, ink, colour pencil on board. 100 x 80cm

Marc Blake. Pacific (2016) Acrylic polymer, ink, colour pencil on board. 100 x 80cm

M.B:  The first painting on this board was very bright, with deep maroons and golds and it was all quite thick.  Then that got mostly sanded off and another painting went on there and then that got mostly sanded off and on and on for about five or six utterly different works over a series of months.  Yet at each stage of sanding, something of those works remained and added to what was already there.  The more I worked, the more it started to suggest something to me, a kind of Pacific scene impacted by conflict.

E.G:  You’ve also developed a new way of incorporating images it seems.

M.B:  Yes for the past three or four paintings I’ve been working on a new way to get images into the work, rather than tracing the outlines of prints into the board.  Essentially it’s like what I’ve alway done, just in a different way.  The difference is that now images kind of sit on the surface as well as soaking into it at the same time.  In “Pacific”, this is probably the first painting I’ve ever done where all the imagery is really “behind” the background colour and the board itself seems to almost float out in front.  I’m not even sure that’s physically possible.

E.G:  Defying physics!

M.B:  Definitely defying the traditional logic of figure and ground anyway.

E.G:  “Pacific” is another very abstract work at first glance.  There is no obvious imagery until you look closer.  Much in the same was as ‘Second Sun”.

M.B:  Yeah this work actually had so many images along the way and all of them were quite graphic and obvious, but for whatever reason I’d just keen sanding them back.  The result is that the sanding started to become the work and ultimately it reached a point where I was looking at it and it just seemed finished.  Kind of scarred.  Lately I’ve been really interested in old Asian paintings on stone and paper that have deteriorated, or been damaged, or defaced, or altered over centuries.  There is a real feeling of time in these latest paintings and I think without it they wouldn’t really work.

E.G:  Despite the fact that for almost everyone else, this work probably seems completely unfinished or like a mistake even.

M.B:  Right!  It’s all quite funny.  It probably looks like the least realised work I’ve ever done, but it’s almost completely the opposite.

E.G:  However obscured or faint though, there are still images in the work.

M.B:  So many times lately I’ve sanded these colourful paintings away and thought that they could be finished just like that.  They’re actually quite beautiful objects in their own right.   It really made me question about why I feel compelled to add images at all.  Ultimately it comes down to what kind of painter I am and that is someone who thinks in terms of images.  A painter who wants to have an image, somewhere, somehow in the work.  It doesn’t always matter to me how clear or obvious they are.  If I was a different kind of painter I could probably just leave them as purely abstract works.  Who knows, maybe I will at some point, but what’s important to me is that everything is constantly changing and progressing in terms of the work itself, in terms of the working.  Not just me making some kind of radical strategy for some external reason.

E.G:  Finally we have a work you’re still making, which from what you’ve just been talking about may be totally gone or different tomorrow, but I’ve seen this progressing piece by piece in detail photos on Instagram and  it’s crazy how many twists and turns it’s taken.

M.B:  And that’s only the photos I’ve posted, there’s been so much more than that.  I can’t even remember what this work was before, but it’s had so much sanding and layering of things that it’s reached a new point.  A huge amount of detail and sources.

E.G:  The background itself is stripped back and muted, it’s almost featureless, yet somehow you’ve still managed to make a landscape out of it.

M.B:  A landscape is really an image made of other smaller images.  What people tend to forget is that there is really no such thing as landscape.  There’s always only just a truly massive amount of minute information, which our eyes tend to combine into a larger, simpler image to enable us to process it.  A perfect example is when I look at these huge mountains behind our house.  Usually we just see what we call a “mountain”, this enormous jagged thing.  It almost looks flat.  Really though it’s billions of rocks and stones and pebbles and dirt, all just lumped in the same place.  The closer we get, the more detail we tend to make out, but it isn’t until our face is literally right in the dirt that we really start to see what the mountain physically is.   Sometimes when the light is right, from a distance I can start to almost zoom in on details on the mountains and then again further in on details within that and it’s mind boggling.  If our eyes suddenly worked differently and we saw all of these nearly infinite details rather than the “mountain”, I think we’d go insane.  But in a way this is really so much closer to how the universe is.  An infinite amount of detail.  Depending on your position to something, it takes on a whole new form.  For that reason I try to make paintings that are as subjective as I can, in every possible way.  As you move closer or further away the story changes, the relationships between figures and objects change, the patterns change, the images change, the techniques change, the whole work changes.  That’s what I look for in painting.

Untitled (Work in Progress) Acrylic polymer, ink, colour pencil on board.  75 x 60cm

Untitled (Work in Progress) Acrylic polymer, ink, colour pencil on board. 75 x 60cm

 

Park

This particular board probably went through more changes than any other work I’ve ever done.  There are remnants of about 5 different paintings in this, each one was radically different to the next and a couple were even considered finished at some point.   Finally after 12 months of sporadic interest, multiple rotations in orientation and complete abandonment, about 2 weeks ago I dug it out again and removed about 95% of the paint.
From this stripped-back state with only stained pigment in patches of the wood, I was able to make out a new landscape in what remained.  A landscape that had in no way been painted or planned previously, yet it instantly reminded me of the immediate environment around where we live.  I was then able to add subtle, faded colour to what I saw and bring out features of this landscape.

The final work, at least to me, is the best I have done in a very long time.  Many a day I have stared at the basketball backboard in the park and marvelled at how it breaks up the enormous mountain range behind it.  Then again after it rains and loved how it is mirrored in puddles on the wet concrete.   This work intuitively brings together the environment I live in, as well as the geometric forms and more organic fluidity of painting.  In its working it is loose and uncontrolled as well as finely detailed and precise.  In short it sums up everything I like about painting.  It hits a balance I only very rarely achieve.

I could not have made this immediately, or deliberately.  I could not have made it without time, experience, accident, cameras, computers, walking my dog and for the first time even Instagram.  Beyond that, there is only the inexplicable and almost illogical motivation that somehow keeps me continuing to return to painting.

untitled 2016 4 8 copy

Untitled (Park) 2016 Acrylic polymer, oil, colour pencil, pigment ink on board.  100 x 80cm

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On recent paintings: “The New Landscape” exhibition.

‘At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it.’ Associate Professor Andrew Truscott, Australian National University, via http://www.sciencealert.com/.

“A work of art normally behaves as if it is a statement: ‘This is a sculpture of the Old Testament hero David by Michelangelo’; or ‘This is a portrait of the Mona Lisa’.  We may, of course, ask questions such as ‘Why has Michelangelo made David double life size?’ or ‘Who was this Mona Lisa?’, but these questions follow on from an acceptance of the initial statement that the artwork proposes.  We accept it both as a representation and as being ipso facto art.”  Godfrey, T. (1998). Conceptual Art. London: Phaidon Press Inc.

Landscape painting, also known as landscape art, is the depiction in art of landscapes – natural scenery such as mountains, valleys, trees, rivers, and forests, especially where the main subject is a wide view – with its elements arranged into a coherent composition. In other works landscape backgrounds for figures can still form an important part of the work. Sky is almost always included in the view, and weather is often an element of the composition. Detailed landscapes as a distinct subject are not found in all artistic traditions, and develop when there is already a sophisticated tradition of representing other subjects. The two main traditions spring from Western painting and Chinese art, going back well over a thousand years in both cases. The recognition of a spiritual element in landscape art is present from its beginnings in East Asian art, drawing on Daoism and other philosophical traditions, but in the West only becomes explicit with Romanticism.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landscape_painting

 

Since 2005, I have been making paintings that I call landscapes, thereby placing them within the context of the genre of landscape paintings in both the Western and East Asian painting traditions.   Although as an artist who is aware of both of these traditions and incorporates ideas from them into my paintings, during the past decade of work, only one of my paintings (Kōyasan, 2014), was of a specific, actual geographical location.   Simultaneously over this ten year period, as information technology has continued to develop and become increasingly fused with our lives, more and more of our time is being spent in a new and evolving online environment; a new landscape that goes beyond our actual physical space.

To give an example; it is now summer, I am sitting at home in Queenstown.  I have a cellphone on the table beside me.  Half of my Instagram feed is of people lying on sun-filled beaches during summer vacation, the other half is of snow covered mountains and forests.  Both are happening at once on opposite sides of the world and as long as I am viewing the images, then I am experiencing beaches, snowy forests and my own living room at once and I can go in and out of all of them in milliseconds.

So what is my real “landscape”?  Is it the beach or the mountains or my living room?  The traditional idea may suggest it is my living room, but then from my living room I can also see mountains and a cloudy sky and trees through the window.  So is my landscape the inside, or the outside of the house, or both?  Is the outside necessarily any more real than watching a TV?  I would say it is all of these things.  Then add computers and tablets and phones and books and everything else into that mix and really we realise all of it is our landscape.

To give a different example; a workman just cut down a tree in my neighbour’s front lawn.  The tree is gone, but I can remember it being there.  If I look out the window, there is no tree in the landscape.  If I close my eyes and remember, then the tree appears again.  I know that one of these states is “real” and one is not, yet it is my belief that reality, not what is “real”, is only ever where our thoughts are at any given moment.  We often describe dreams as being realistic, yet in my opinion they go beyond that into actually being reality – at least while you’re in them.  If I am in bed dreaming, my reality is far more the world of the dream than the body lying motionless and unaware in bed.

Similarly, even though I may physically be sitting in my living room at home in New Zealand, if I am lost deep in memories of lying on a beach in Hawaii, then for that moment I consider my “reality” to be more in Hawaii than New Zealand.  Even though of course I know I am “really” in New Zealand.  If I am engaged in viewing videos or photos, at least for the minutes or seconds I am actively looking at these images, my conscious focus is very much directed at a place outside my physical body and location.  If this wasn’t the case, I doubt advertising as we know it would exist.  The same could be said for reading books, watching films, drifting off while listening to music, daydreaming, taking hallucinogenic drugs, engaging in a creative, imaginary act, or even occasions where the mind can seem to “divert” itself away from the body during intense physical pain or trauma.  Essentially it is any moment where the mind ceases to be present and aware of the physical location and immediate surroundings and in doing so, “transports” you someplace else.

For this reason, my paintings incorporate aspects from all of these states of being to present a new landscape.  A landscape where times, seasons, places, cultures, dreams, real and imagined events all come together and everything happens at once.  A landscape of what painting itself is and has become.  A landscape that goes beyond any intention by me as an artist, or any statement by the painting itself of being an artwork.  There is no intention, there is no statement.  There is no story I am trying to tell, no meaning I am trying to communicate.  Instead, the paintings themselves are simply presentations of information from the bias of my own experience, with which the viewer is then free to engage and interpret in their own terms.  Some of this is based upon their own unique, individual experiences and some of it will be the shared experiences of us both, or culture and society at large.

Therefore, unlike Michelangelo’s “David” or da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”, the latest paintings I have made for this exhibition do not state anything other than that they are just paintings.  Yes they have representational elements like trees and mountains and figures, which are ways to engage or enter the works, but they do not become art until they are seen.  It is only through this viewing and interpretation of the paintings that they can simultaneously be viewed as both objects and materials, as well as art that conceptually engages the viewer.

Even though during the making of the paintings each element suggests the next, it is not until the work is complete that I can begin to view it as a whole and engage the work as a viewer myself.   For this reason, despite any feelings or thoughts I may have had during the making of the work, I have no more of an idea, nor could be considered any more of an authority on what the work “means” than anyone else.   There is no meaning other than what each person choses to place upon it, nor is there any single way, either “right” or “wrong”, to view or interpret any of these new paintings.

Finally, another aspect that sets these new works apart and further removes any statement or intention from me as an artist, is the fact that many of the patterns left by the pigments also suggest multiple associations to different people.  One example is how people have told me they can see owls in one painting that I had neither “seen’ nor even thought of myself.  Likewise, what someone sees as a bird may be a cloud, or what someone sees as an eye, may really be just the way the paint settled.

As humans we are pre-programmed to recognise patterns and especially faces.  Making out images in random patterns, like seeing the shape of a horse in the clouds, is called pareidolia.  As an artist I encourage a pareidolic response to the dried, random pigments to form the basis of the landscapes while I am making the works, but it seems inevitable that someone else may have a different response.

Therefore what I always considered to look like a cloud, may in turn look like a tsunami, or a storm, or the edge of a forest, or a mountain, or a nuclear blast, or a tropical paradise, or even a fiery planet to another viewer.  No one is right, no one is wrong.  It is all and one and none of these things.  The work does not state anything, it is simply materials and colour and outlines.  Only when viewed and engaged does it become art.

This is my painting.  This is the new landscape both us and painting now occupy.  This is the new landscape painting.

Marc Blake
January, 2016

 

Second Sun

Marc Blake – Second Sun (2015) Acrylic, colour pencil on board. 75 x 60cm

 

 

 

 

 

Q + A – January 2016

Emily Goldsmith:  Can you tell me about your current exhibition, “The New Landscape”?  What was the concept for this show from the beginning?

Marc Blake:  For this show half of the gallery space is dedicated to a selection of works of mine from the Wallace Trust collection since 2007 and the other half is all new work, created this year.  So as a show, it’s like a kind of snapshot over the past decade that also leads into a whole body of new paintings created specifically for this exhibition.  Together, the old and the new hopefully combine to tell an overall story about the way I feel about painting, what I’m trying to do with it and possibly what direction is coming next.

marc blake painting

Marc Blake: The New Landscape (partial Installation view)

 

Marc Blake painting

Marc Blake: The New Landscape (partial Installation view)

 

marc blake painting

Marc Blake: The New Landscape (partial Installation view)

 

Marc Blake painting

Marc Blake: The New Landscape (partial Installation view)

 

Marc Blake painting

Marc Blake: The New Landscape (partial Installation view)

 

marc blake painting

Marc Blake: The New Landscape (partial Installation view)

 

marc blake painting

Marc Blake: The New Landscape (partial Installation view)

 

Marc Blake painting

Marc Blake: The New Landscape (partial Installation view)

 

E.G:  The works from the collection are each quite unique and yet there is still a thread running between them that defines them as being your paintings.

M.B:  Part of how I work involves a constant evolution and not being afraid to try new things.  For me, every painting I make contains something that is then put into the next one.  Sometimes this is more obviously or directly connected, but other times there is just a spark that sets me off in a new direction.  The key for me is how far I follow anything.  Sometimes it’s just a single work, sometimes it goes on for a few, or even a lot, but ultimately there is one feeling I’m trying to identify; does the kind of work I’m making feel like it has possibility to continue to evolve?  Does it have potential to not only challenge me and keep me interested, but also to expand into a new area that feels unknown and makes me want to keep going.  If each work keeps suggesting a new one and the feeling of anticipation is building and it feels new and fun and difficult all at once, then I’m on the right track.  For this show I don’t think I have ever experienced such a continuous and intensive period of painting.  Everything came all at once and not only seemed to capture everything I’ve done until now, but also took me in an entirely new direction.  I believe this is by far the best show I have done and I can already see that it is a launching pad for a whole new lot of works to come this year.

E.G:  You have quite a lot of works in the Wallace collection now, how does this, if at all, affect your painting.

M.B:  I have fourteen works in the collection at the moment.  I know Sir James collects a substantial amount of artists’ work, but for me personally it’s been incredibly positive and without a doubt I can say it has enabled me to continue to become an artist, in almost every way, over the past decade.  To then also make a show like this where people can see almost 30 works of mine in a room across 9 years is such a privilege at this point.  I am so incredibly thankful for the support I have received.

E.G:  So how do you feel about the new works?  I think there are about 14 paintings and 2 new multi-media works in the show?  There are also collaborations.  But for this talk, I’d like to focus on your paintings.  Is there anything you really wanted to achieve with this exhibition in particular?

M.B:  I think there are two things I want to try and achieve with every exhibition I do.  Firstly I want to make and show work that is completely true to who I am as a person and an artist, which continues the evolution of my work and how I feel about contemporary painting.  Secondly I want to present paintings that are original, that people have never seen before, which somehow, in whatever way, makes them reflect on something – wether it’s art, or life, or anything.  Of course it’s great when people like the work, but ultimately I don’t really care if it’s liked or not.  I know that sounds kind of strange, but really I just want to the work to illicit any kind of reaction, a reaction that at least for a moment takes the viewer into some kind of new place.  So with the new work in this show, like them or hate them, at least people will have seen nothing really like these paintings before.  The worst thing I feel when I go in to galleries these days – and it happens way too often – is just indifference.

E.G:  They are very original paintings, yet again as someone who knows your work, I can see the evolution and progression that has somehow gotten you to this point.

M.B:  Of course I have influences in my work and I react to the aspects of art history that I connect with, so this manifests itself in my painting.  But ultimately I see it as my job to take all of these elements from the past, including even my own work and to somehow make something new from it.  Painting is so rich and varied these days it’s actually in an incredible place, yet at the same time I have to make work that asserts my own belief about what is important in painting.

E.G:  And that is?

M.B:  It’s difficult to articulate exactly what it is that I’m trying to achieve, because even though a painting has a conclusion in the sense it gets “finished”, that painting itself is never the conclusion for me.  There is always a suggestion of what comes next, about what that work achieved, or what it lacked, about how something can be tweaked, or altered, or radically changed, or explored, or abandoned.  Each painting is only ever just one manifestation of a series of moments.

E.G:  And what do you think is important in painting?

M.B:  Painting is so broad and I have a fairly broad appreciation of it.  There are so many painters trying new things these days, but I guess for me personally I’m always trying to find a balance and not let the concept take away either the fun of making work, or the human element.

E.G:  You mean a human connection to the making, or the viewing?

M.B:  Well ultimately both.  I choose to incorporate images from reality in my work because many years ago I realised that a figure, or animal, or tree or whatever is an entrance into the work and to communication with a viewer.  It’s something for myself and for the viewer to lead into, but ultimately it is still form and colour and composition that interests me, not telling any particular story.  I think with these latest works and especially the most very recent of those in this show, I am starting to understand this more.  How to use the form of actual things to also add to, or go beyond what they may represent as associations to the viewer.  I’m trying to do both things.

Jump (2015) Acrylic on board. 50 x 40cm

Jump (2015) Acrylic on board. 50 x 40cm

E.G:  Figures, horses and especially trees are so prevalent in all of your work and have been for so many years.  Even often it seems you have used the same source image numerous times.  What is there in these particular images that keeps coming back to you?

M.B:  Honestly I really don’t know.  It’s funny, but I never really think about why an image keeps coming back.  I can say that those images have been prevalent from the very beginning of painting over thousands of years and this is a big reason.  Also that I want to include things from the world into the work and not have just purely abstract paintings.  There are so many different kinds of trees, but I usually just paint the same ones more or less over and over again.  These are mostly pine trees, which aren’t even native to New Zealand and are actually taken from photos of old Japanese screen paintings.  So it’s not just about the tree itself, or what a tree is, or what it means.  That’s so far beyond what I know.  It’s also about the form of the tree, the shape and how it fits into the composition, how it can be arranged.  It’s a pattern.  Those pine trees I paint are really one of the few things I have found that are working both vertically and horizontally at the same time.  They also have a balance between organic nature and human manipulation, which is the same as horses I guess.

E.G:  Yes what about horses?  Especially the white horse.

Marc Blake painting

What We See and What We Don’t See (2015) Acrylic, colour pencil on board. 60 x 75cm

 

Marc Blake painting

Dawn (2015) Acrylic, oil, colour pencil on board. 80 x 120cm (Detail)

 

Marc Blake painting

Dawn (2015) Acrylic, oil, colour pencil on board. 80 x 120cm (Detail)

M.B:  Of course there are so many associations with what horses are and what they represent and their very unique relationship to humans.  I guess they suggest both freedom and domestication at the same time, as well as power and tranquility.  People are free to make up their own minds, but again, it’s mainly the form.   There are really not many things that again, like the pine trees, work in both a horizontal and vertical way and especially things that are white.  The form of a horse either adds that element of white to a work and/or breaks up the composition in the same way those pine trees do.   There are horses very close to where I live and growing up in New Zealand, that image of one or two horses standing in a field beside the highway is a fairly common sight out of the city, but I’ve never even ridden one and barely touched one.  I have no personal connection to them on that level, but there is just something in the complexity of their associations with humans and art and the colour and form that keeps me constantly including them in my work.

E.G:  You mentioned the latest works in this show and also the newest ones, which I think are the ones with the more vivid and intense colours.  When I see these works it seems like there really is no one way to look at them.  There’s no single, central image and from a distance they are almost abstract, yet up close there’s also so much detail and then detail within detail and images that seem to appear out of nowhere.

As a Human I'm Going to Try and Compare This to Everything in Li

As a Human I’m Going to Try and Compare This to Everything in Life (2015) Acrylic, colour pencil on board. 50 x 40cm

M.B:  Yes and this is something that’s still ongoing for me.  The more these works for this show developed, the more they moved away from a figure/ground kind of thing.  So many of the images kind of fuse into the ground in these paintings and vice versa.  With the very loose and almost uncontrolled way these layers of pigments are applied, it’s quite amazing how many images and forms seems to “appear” within them.  Obviously for me it means I can use this as a starting point to suggest landscape, or elements within it and then the way these things interact.  It’s funny but I had a few people at the opening of this show telling me they could see things in the works like owls, or faces for example, but I had no idea and certainly hadn’t painted them at all, people just see their own things in the patterns left by how the paint has dried.  This is exactly what I’ve done when working, but they were seeing completely different things.  People are naturally geared towards pattern-recognition, especially faces and eyes etc. It’s something that’s pre-programmed in us and beyond that, I think it’s really a case of things that trigger images from within our own subconscious.  We are always making images from clouds, or shapes in the rocks.

E.G:  It’d be easy to just leave those pigments and not paint in anything else.

M.B:  Well the last work I made for this show called, Nude Descending a Staircase, is the biggest painting in the show, yet it actually has the least amount of elements painted into it.  Actually the entire bottom two-thirds of it are just the patterns left by the pigment, which was so intense and intricate that I really felt like there was nothing left to add.

Marc Blake painting

Nude Descending a Staircase (2015) Acrylic on board. 150 x 120cm

E.G:  From a distance it’s almost similar to a colour field painting, or something purely abstract.

M.B:  Kind of, but for me even the large areas of colour in that work are still suggesting some kind of figurative connection.  I’m not interested in colour field painting, I don’t think they ever came close to what Matisse could do with large areas of colour for example.  I think Peter Doig shows exactly how that idea is still expanding today.

E.G:  The title, Nude Descending a Staircase, obviously references the Duchamp painting?  Also there seems to be more reference to other paintings and artists in these recent works.

M.B:  Yeah that title is from Marcel Duchamp and also Gerhard Richter did a similar kind of idea too.  Basically I saw the form of a staircase in the pigment and this gave me the idea of having a figure, or figures walking down it.  Initially I was going to have them walking down into a pool or some water, but again the lower part of that work is so swirling and intense and suggestive in those blues that I left it as it was.  The figures of the women were taken from a “female nude motion study” by the photographer Edward Muybridge in 1887.  Yet overall, and this is something my Dad actually commented on when he saw it, it reminds me of an old record cover from the 70s; that kind of weird combination of psychedelic and classical imagery.

E.G:  And what about the other figure playing the violin?

M.B:  That’s from Matisse’s painting Music.

Marc Blake painting

Nude Descending a Staircase (2015) Acrylic on board. 150 x 120cm (Detail)

E.G:  It’s as if the music he is playing is resonating through that profile of the head beside him.

M.B:  Yeah they fit together very well I think.  But again, that “head” is actually just the lines that were left as the wet pigment gradually evaporated and dried in the sun.  The profile of a face that it left was uncanny to me, but all I did was draw in the eye.

E.G:  So how does taking images form other artworks differ from taking images from found photos or other sources?

M.B:  Well in one way it’s completely the same.  Really why I first started tracing every single image in my work from 2008 onwards was because I wanted to incorporate things from reality in the paintings, but I didn’t want to try and sketch something that already exists.  I think other artists before me right through history, up until midway through the twentieth century were so devoted to that.  By the time Picasso had completely dismantled everything and rearranged it and put it all back together again, I don’t know how I could possibly add to that, or why I would want to either.  I see this period of history that I live in as being one deeply influenced by the beginning of digital technology.  For me, Warhol really kicked off the photographic process in painting back in the 1960s and now it’s digital and everywhere.  While I was living in Japan, in 2002 I saw basically the first cellphone with a decent camera-built in and I knew everything was going to change.  There are probably billions of photos online now of everything you could imagine.  So for example, if I want to put a bottle in a painting, I will either take a photo of a specific bottle myself and trace that image directly, or else search online until I find the right one to use and then trace that.  By keeping the form exact, my interest becomes what I can do within the parameters.

E.G:  So if you want a figure walking in water, you may either use a photo of someone actually doing that, or else a photo of bathers from a painting by Matisse for example?

marc Blake painting

Second Sun (2015) Acrylic and colour pencil on board. 75 x 60cm (Detail)

 

Marc Blake painting

Second Sun (2015) Acrylic and colour pencil on board. 75 x 60cm (Detail)

M.B:  Or in this case, both at once.  The difference is of course that tracing over an image taken from another artwork not only changes the context of my painting to specifically referencing art history and that particular artist, but aesthetically it also looks more like a “drawing” than a tracing of a photo does, because of course Matisse or whoever, were drawing freehand.  In that sense I’m kind of playing around by drawing with their drawings.

E.G:  But you have been using elements of other artworks in your own painting for many years.

M.B:  Yes, but almost exclusively from old Japanese paintings and prints.  I think these are the first ones I’ve done that directly incorporate European art.

E.G:  We’ve spoken about the profound influence of Japanese art on your work and also how recently European art history has become increasingly significant to you, but I have to say with these new works, I have honestly never really seen anything like them before.  There are definitely some elements of Eastern and Western ideas in them, but they have seemed to go somewhere completely new.  They are a complex hybrid.

M.B:  I agree.  I honestly think these are the most original works I have ever made.  They have taken all the ideas and trial and error from the past ten years and somehow made something really new.  They were such a liberating group of paintings to make for me, they truly felt like they were something only I could make.

E.G:  So finally, do you have any idea about what’s coming next, or are you just happy to be taking a break?

M.B:  It’s funny because I was really looking forward to taking a break over summer, but I’m starting to get ideas already.  First there’s a bit of work I want to do on our house, then I’ll be back in the studio again.  I’m already starting to see images and how the works in this show have really started something new for me.

 

Q + A – October 2015

Emily Goldsmith:  When we spoke last month, you had completed a few new works for your upcoming exhibition that marked quite a significant development in the evolution of your process.  How has it been in the studio since then?  You seem to have been doing a lot of work.

Marc Blake:  Yes it’s been a very productive couple of months.  I’ve got another month to finish things off and so far it’s all looking in good shape.  Once the first few works happened it kind of opened the floodgates in a way, the ideas have been coming through quickly and most importantly it’s been the most fun I’ve had painting in quite a while.  There’s a real flow happening from one to the next.

E.G:  You said before that you think this body of work is perhaps the biggest jump since 2008.

M.B:  I still think it is.  Of course a lot has happened in those years and it’s all shaped where I am today, but there is a whole new freedom opened up with these new works that I haven’t felt for ages.  Some periods of working have a more defined characteristic about them, as if the work is really just for one specific show or avenue of experimentation, but recently I can feel the whole thing opening up a lot, suggesting there is a lot more to investigate.

E.G:  Even with the past couple of works, it seems clear you are still opening up and letting things happen.  The first works I saw early last month were very free and seemingly spontaneous, but now it seems to be even more so.  Particularly with this latest one titled, “The Magnificence”.

The Magnificence 2015 Marc Blake

The Magnificence (2015) Acrylic on board. 40 x 50cm  Marc Blake

M.B:  I’m still experimenting with different ways of treating the board and the paint.  New uses of mediums and preparation affect the way in which the very thin liquid pigment flows and dries across the board.   I am dabbing at the wet paint and interacting with it a bit while its wet, but I don’t want to try and control everything.  The wider “landscape” usually starts to appear very quickly in the process, but it doesn’t have to be logical or realistic in any way.  It doesn’t have to always make sense or be polished or perfect.

E.G:  The paintings all have a sense of cohesion and obviously work together very well as a group, yet there is still something unique that differentiates all of them.

M.B:  Well there is two kinds of disciplines going on in these works I think.  The first being the unpredictable application of very thin colour and the second being what figures or objects to place within the landscape and how to render them.  With the first layers, I am outside with the painting lying on the grass.  I’m using very fluid paint and literally a garden hose to soak everything.  Add to that the effects of the wind and sun, even snow and rain and the angle or slope of the ground and you realise there’s a whole lot of factors at play.  I could attempt to try and paint two works the same but it would never happen, it’s impossible to ever completely duplicate.

E.G:  And then as you mentioned, the figures and animals and trees start to populate these landscapes, yet even between how they are painted there is a big variation of how you handle the paint.  How solid or detailed the figures are, or how much they advance or recede from the background.

M.B:  Again it just comes down to the intuition of working.  I don’t know how the figures, or trees, or whatever is going to be painted until I’m actually painting them.  Even then sometimes it changes midway through, or maybe again further down the line when something else is added.  But then this is how I’ve really always worked anyway, each step influences the next.

Monument Valley (2015) Acrylic, colour pencil on board. 50 x 40cm Marc Blake

Monument Valley (2015) Acrylic, colour pencil on board. 50 x 40cm Marc Blake

E.G:  You always have quite a lot of variation with how the paint is applied in a single work.  Like there are a number of different techniques happening at once.  This isn’t something you often seen in painting, but for you this kind of thick and thin, soft and hard contrast seems to be important.

M.B:  Again this has only happened over years of working.  It’s an intuitive thing I do and I just have to trust it.  I think a lot of it comes down to a kind of focus in the work, like a camera focus.  Having soft areas and crisp areas, thin areas and thicker more textural areas is more interesting to me.  It makes the eye wander around the work more I think and switch between focusing on one spot and then another and then also taking the whole wide scene in.  I also want certain things to advance and recede like we’ve mentioned.  My works are all very, very flat landscapes and this comes from the strong Asian influence.  They are literally almost the thinnest application of paint I can use and particularly with these recent works, it’s mainly just one single colour being applied, so in that sense it’s like ink.  All of these things combined means an illusion of focus and depth and different planes can appear, all within a super flat work.

Bannockburn Nights (2015) Acrylic on board. 80 x 100cm (detail) Marc Blake

Bannockburn Nights (2015) Acrylic on board. 80 x 100cm (detail) Marc Blake

Bannockburn Nights (2015) Acrylic on board. 80 x 100cm (detail) Marc Blake

Bannockburn Nights (2015) Acrylic on board. 80 x 100cm (detail) Marc Blake