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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