When I first started painting around 1998 I used oil on canvas, because that was something I thought I had to do. However, for a multitude of reasons I began to switch to acrylics and wood around 2002.
in July of that year I also went to live in Japan. Although I made a few paintings after arriving in Japan, I became far more interested in digital video and photography for the next couple of years. It wasn’t until December 2004, when I relocated to Yokohama and began to share a studio with Kosuke Masuda, that I almost immediately restarted an intensive, daily practice of painting that still continues to this day.
During these past 15 years or so, I have used acrylics, inks, pencils, pens and wood in various ways in almost every single work I have made. Throughout this time, I have experimented with all of these materials in nearly every conceivable way I can imagine and as such, my handling of paint and understanding of the wooden support has constantly evolved.
Beyond this technical understanding of materials, I have also come to understand the relevance acrylic has for me as a medium in a more cultural sense. It is plastic, as is most of our daily, urban existence. It is also quick drying, comparatively cheap and has the bright colours of advertising and computer screens. The skin of a thick acrylic paint however, is not really as traditionally aesthetically appealing as oil paint. It is vinyl, artificial, kind of ugly. And that’s why it makes perfect sense.
I have a feeling that acrylic painters usually also like oil, but that oil painters almost never like acrylic. Oil paint is a product of the past and of course directly references the history of western painting for hundreds of years. For me, this weighs too heavily on how I would have to consider my work. It feels more library, than Google. I assume that people who like oil paint also like typewriters and cocktails and have houses filled with old leather things.
Wood and sanding.
I think I started using wood instead of canvas for a few reasons. It was cheaper and more available than canvas, my father was a carpenter so I had grown up around it and I was also very influenced by the multiple trips I’d take to the Auckland Art Gallery. It seemed to me that many of these local modern painting heroes like McCahon, Hotere and Fomison, more or less used whatever they could find and that there was a fair amount of DIY tradition in their painting. The fact I go to the hardware store, as well as the art store appeals a lot to me. High quality, lightweight wood and wooden panels were also easily available from art stores in Japan and I used them the whole time I was there.
Similar to acrylic paint, I have experimented constantly with wooden panels and mainly plywood. I like it because it can be the support, ground, background, figure, object, foreground – all at once.
I prefer plywood for many reasons. I like how it looks. I like to work on the floor and be able to sit on it, or lean, or lie, or stand on it. I like how it is both solid and soft. I like how I am able to sand back and press into the actual surface itself. With canvas you can stain and soak into the fabric, or build up thick layers, but it is too thin to ever really sand completely down and it is almost impossible to press into the actual surface.
Over the past 5 years, sanding has played an increasingly important part in my process. Initially, I would just sand away part of an image to either conceal it, or rework it and occasionally sand off an entire work in order to reuse the board for a new work. Then I began to incorporate larger sanded areas, as well as remnants of earlier workings that could never completely be removed. Within the past 2 years, sanding in multiple ways in a single work has now become an integral part of my painting.
Sanding is an extremely physically engaging activity, which greatly benefits and compliments the act of applying paint. However, I almost always used electric sanders and it not a terribly pleasant thing to do. There is a lot of dust and noise and this can be harmful, as well as inconvenient, or impossible in certain settings. Yet, I have certainly now reached a point where a sander is the same as any brush and consequently removing paint is as essential as adding it.