Work 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.