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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Original painting

Up until now, painting has managed to evade the radical shift in distribution that digital technology has enabled over the past twenty years in music, literature, photography and film.  Identical copies of digital media can of course be shared in seconds, infinitely, anywhere in the world.  Yet until fairly recently anyway, doing this with painting has been limited and problematic.

A painting is just a painting.  There is usually only one.  Otherwise it forms part of an edition and becomes something else entirely, at least in terms of a market.  The unique individuality of paintings as a tangible, symbol of status and collectable economic commodity, has resulted in the potential for them to become worth many millions of dollars.  A painting by the right artist, rich in critical and preferably historical, cultural importance and combined with the right provenance, will inevitably find its way into the top auction houses.  While copies and fakes can be made well enough to fool even museum experts, unlike ebooks, or MP3s, or any other digital media, even the best forger cannot ever make a painting completely identical in every way to the original.

However, in the past five or so years it has become possible for 3D scanners, cameras and printers to capture and print objects with finer microscopic precision for less cost.  So how, at all, will this change painting?

The answer lies in what we have already seen happen to anything else once it becomes information technology.  It becomes better and cheaper exponentially.  With the best 3D printers we are not talking a reproduction, or a version of the original, we are talking another exact original.  What happens when a perfectly scanned 3D image file of Picasso’s Weeping Woman (1937), frame and all, is shared over peer to peer networks and can be printed out at home in exact scale, in such quality that even the most minute detail in an imperfect weave in one millimetre of the corner of the back of the canvas is utterly identical in appearance to the original?

Yes, there will always only ever be one original.   But what happens to the idea of an original if there is suddenly an infinite number of them and no one can tell the difference any more?   If one was to secretly swap an identical copy with a work in a museum, is the one hanging in the museum still not the most valuable, simply because it is the one in the museum?  In terms of the actual object, it is impossible to tell them apart.  So the “offical” one, is the original the default.

Posters and prints and reproductions of paintings in various forms have been around for centuries, but now we are talking about an object that will be utterly indistinguishable from the original in every way.  Everyone will of course know the real Mona Lisa is in the Louvre, yet what happens when there are suddenly three million identical Mona Lisas in the world, which not even the foremost experts would ever be able to tell apart?  Will the ability to scan a painting (or prevent it from being scanned) become worth more than the actual painting itself?  What price on the security of “originality”?

This is of course something that the art market, dealers, collectors and institutions will inevitably work out amongst themselves one way or another.  Yet this irreversible disruption won’t only impact the market, but even the manner in which we hold and transport paintings.   When a museum needs to ship numerous important works around the world for a major exhibition it is a huge logistical and financial undertaking, fraught with risk .  Packing, handling, insurance, transportation and security for incredibly fragile, often large items worth millions of dollars each is an extremely expensive exercise.  Damage, loss or theft between point A and B is also something that not even insurance can fully cover, with the cultural and historical value of certain masterpieces going far beyond purely monetary value.

So what happens when this can all be done basically for free, instantly, with minimal risk?  When a painting can be scanned, emailed across the globe and printed out identically in every single way to the original?  In this case, the original painting would conceivably never even leave the artist’s studio in New York, yet it could be simultaneously exhibited in Museums in Tokyo, Berlin and London.  No more travelling shows, just one show, everywhere at once.

So which one painting would then have the highest “value” if there is not a single difference between them physically?   The original one in the studio, or the one in the exhibition/permanent collection, amassing history and provenance ?  Will the one in the studio, or the one in the exhibition, need to be destroyed after a show or acquisition, in order to maintain this unique one of a kind commodity value?  Which one will the museum or the collector even want?  Would it be possible for the artist, a museum and a collector to have one each?  And then what of the 3D image files and rights themselves?  Surely they will also need to be deleted in a secure, verified and authenticated fashion to ensure no further prints are ever made.  But then what is to stop another party simply scanning a work and making more copies.  High tech digital storage will replace storerooms and vaults.  On it goes.

If a museum were to scan its entire collection (let’s not even go in to what happens if these files are hacked and/or altered, or stolen), this means it could effectively “lend” and “tour” every single work in its possession without ever having to physically send them out of their storeroom, simply by emailing files to another institution for them to then print and exhibit.  Similarly, if there was a catastrophic fire or accident and a work is destroyed, another completely identical copy could then be printed and not even the artist would ever be able to tell the difference.

So what impact could this whole scenario also have on the audience?  On the act of viewing a painting?  Will staring at a large, freshly printed Gerhard Richter abstract painting illicit the same response in a viewer as the original the artist physically worked on himself?  As an artist myself who has only ever seen reproductions in print and on computers of most of the greatest masterpieces in the world, what is the true nature of experiencing a painting?   Would not printing and being able to show works anywhere somehow democratise art and enable the potential scope and range of a worldwide audience to be exponentially larger than those who could ever travel to see an original?

Until fairly recently, before we ever purchased or read a novel there was of course the original manuscript.  Typed, or possibly even handwritten, with it’s torn, coffee-stained pages and scribbled notes.  Yet the word processor has changed that paradigm almost entirely.  The manuscript of even the greatest contemporary novel is, at least technically, just another .doc file or PDF capable of being infinitely copied and shared.  Likewise with a great studio album, there are the original master recordings, the historical document, captured live and raw,  with the banter of the band in the mics and the producer from behind the glass and all the alternate versions and takes and mistakes and individual elements of what will eventually become famous songs.  Yet such recordings in that state were almost never meant to be consumed by an audience and hardly ever are.  Instead it is the highly refined, engineered and polished production, released on whatever media is appropriate at the time.  Once it was a physical object, now people hardly ever “touch” the music at all, it just streams out of the cloud into their device of choice.

A novel, whether a paperback, or eBook.  A song, wether on the radio, or streaming on your phone.  A photographic image, wether in a magazine, on the wall, or glowing on your laptop, is completely detached, disconnected, physically at least, from the artist who created it.  There is a distinct disconnect between the creator, the act of creation, the artwork and the audience.  There is no transferral of touch, no tangible direct connection from the artist to the audience.  And this is where painting has differed.

Some of the oldest cave paintings we know of are literally the artist’s own handprint.  A hand, covered in pigment, pressed onto a wall.  If I were to walk into that same cave now and place my own hand over that ancient pigment on that rock wall, I would be touching directly, not only the artwork and the actual medium, but also the very place in which the artist stood and the work was created, tens of thousands of years before I was even born.  I would be physically linked through time and space, to that very artwork, through the most human of means – touch.  The idea, the creation, the experiencing, all vastly separated over millennia, yet at the same time possible to still become one.

Of course, when we visit a museum to look at famous paintings, we cannot physically touch the paintings themselves.  The “DO NOT TOUCH” signs are everywhere and so are the red cordons and protective glass and the security cameras and guards.  Yet, despite all of this, we still know (or assume at least) that the very painting we are standing so close to is actually the real thing.  We know that in 1888, that very same painting was hanging on the wall in Van Gogh’s cottage in Arles.  It was worked on directly by the mythological Vincent, touched, scraped, brushed, manipulated, sweated and fretted over by him, carried around by him, stacked in a corner, sent to his brother to try and sell.  Somehow, just like the oil paint itself, all of that time and history and experience and folklore has soaked into the very fabric of the object itself.  And then magically, here we are, standing directly in front of it over a century later.  If we were to view this original Van Gogh, side by side with a printed copy that is utterly identical, could we feel some intangible difference between them?  Could we “feel” a difference?  Is such an idea real?

Recently I saw an exhibition of numerous works by Gauguin and Van Gogh and as I moved around the gallery spaces I became aware of the manner in which I was experiencing these paintings.  I would initially see them from a distance across the large rooms, over the heads of a large crowd, perhaps recognising certain works I’d seen in books.  Then I’d get closer, stand and stare at them, feel an atmosphere that communicated to me, or not.  Then came the more technical artistic appraisal; the overall composition, the colour, the arrangement of space.  Then I would get closer still, inspecting them as closely as I could, looking at the details, the brushwork, the technique, how thick or thin the paint was in certain areas, the way the light changed when I moved and viewed it from an angle.  I noticed how some of the works seemed to have faded over time, while others looked as fresh and vibrant as if they’d only been painted yesterday.

Yet simultaneously, in the back of my mind I also knew I was looking at famous art historical and cultural artefacts.  Paintings that had been made in a field in France by a  mysterious and mythologised artist, or else in the tropical, humid salt air of 19th century Tahiti, then transported on a creaky sailing ship back to Europe.  Beyond that still all the countless other journeys and events and encounters with people and chance and time that lead to them now, hanging right in front of me, on a wall in the middle of Tokyo in 2016.

The artists had touched these works, lived with them.  They were made from touch, their experience and ability it was all still visible in the brushwork.  The paintings are perfect in the sense of what they are, what they have become.  Direct, physical, human creativity, communication, contact presented in a museum form.  Yet still all done in much the same way those cave paintings were made tens of thousands of years ago.

Therefore the question arises; if I knew that those paintings in the museum were in fact 3D printed replicas, albeit utterly identical in very single way (physically at least) to the originals, would they still have had the same impact on me?  The same resonance?  The same overwhelming sense of importance?  Would they have the same intangible essence?  The same romanticism?  And I have to imagine the answer would be no.  To me, that is what makes painting itself so different. This touch.  Contact.  This physical involvement and embodiment of a series of ideas and events, recorded directly through the medium with and into the medium itself.

Jackson Pollock may have dripped and drizzled and swirled  paint onto his canvases from half a metre away and taken that revolutionary detached, critical step back from the brush and direct touch, yet in his works you can still feel time, see the same human rhythm and movement, his footsteps and cigarette ash and broken glass and dirt.  Andy Warhol never directly touched all of his works either, yet I still feel that same human connection to his ideas and paintings.  He too was an artist of his time and he just had someone else doing the labour.  There is still the painter’s connection in both of these artist’s great works.  Still the direct manifestation of idea and action into the medium.  The touch is still there.

So with old paintings at least, the idea of the original stays very true and important, because we want all this history.  We love how this highly fragile thing has been considered precious enough to somehow survive centuries of war and strife.  However, with with new paintings, I feel perhaps this importance of the original becomes somewhat diminished.  With an exhibition of brand new paintings, it becomes, for me at least, more about the freshness of the image, the immediacy, the nowness.  About seeing something new done with paint.  Wether or not I was looking at a 3D print, or the original from the artist’s studio seems to somehow seem less important with new works, because in this case it is all about this newness and the impact of now.  The rush of seeing something brand new and immediate.  However, one still has to actually see paintings, be in the same space as them, to truly appreciate them.  Photos and reproductions are an entirely different thing.

So for now at least, with the technology still perfecting, almost every painting we ever see is still the original work made by the artists themselves.  In the next few years though, this will probably change and we as the audience will change along with it as we have always done.  Eventually the very last person on Earth to remember the time when there was only ever one original painting will die of old age and for everyone else that will be forgotten and relegated to history.

Perhaps the next question will then be, what kind of paintings will the computers make?  When they have superseded our intelligence.  Perhaps then will then see if paintings are only just a human thing, or even if humans are only just a human thing.  But that’s a whole different essay.

As for the artists themselves, before then, or even beyond then.  Painters still have one job, which sounds simple, but isn’t.  It is to immerse themselves in the making and create something that is and can only ever be painting.  Painting that connects with this lineage back to the caves.  Painting that is unashamed to show its own creation, to show the mistakes and shortcomings, the learning and accidents and enable all of these things to happen, while thinking about it all just enough and not too much.  To engage in the making, is to engage in the viewing.  To show what only painting can show.

 

 

 

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

1 (19)1 (20)

bits of process

Sometimes there are other, previously worked paintings under the latest works.  Maybe ones I’ve had sitting around and never really felt 100% about.  Or else they’re just tests or have been abandoned for whatever reason.  This often gives the works a kind of added “weight”, that can sometimes work well.  The key seems to be to not let too much of the earlier work through.

I can see how it is beneficial to hold on to every work and see if there is another way it may be used.  I try not to really throw anything away, unless there’s something about it that suggests it will be difficult to use agin.

Starting around 2008 I would usually look to the patterns in the bare woodgrain for a suggestion on how to begin something.  Maybe I saw a mountain, or sky, or horizon.
After a few years following that and slowly moving away from it, I started to work increasingly on the computer and arrange compositions in Photoshop.  Then I would use this as the starting point, or at least the outline of it.  Tracing the whole composition into the board.
One thing that has never changed in ten years is this way of transferring images into the board.  Tracing over a printed image and pressing the outline into the surface of the wood is like invisible tracing.  It’s a way to reach a certain point quickly for me, from which I can start to “work”.
I can remember doing that in Primary school around 6 years old, but into paper instead.  The lines can only be seen under certain light, or on certain angles.  I also loved colouring books as a kid.  Working within an outline is perfect for me, having a kind of pre-existing parameter of form in which to really work.

With the newer ones I have been doing for about the past 8 months, I have no idea how the layers of colour are going to look when they dry.  The decision is initially what colours to use, then how to kind of drip them into the soaking water and wood.  Adding more as I go, maybe occasionally stopping a flow, or tilting the board.  The layers of water and colour I put on the board these days can be kind of controlled and played with, but really there are so many factors beyond my control that at some point I just have to leave it sitting and wait for it to dry.
During that fairly slow drying time the work is still moving and breathing in a way, the layers of water are fairly raised and very fluid on the surface of the board.  Wind, gravity, sun, humidity, dampness, dryness, the effect of 2 pigments mixing; all of this is something I can do nothing really about.  One thing that seems important is to let the work dry naturally, not not use heaters or artificial methods.

When the board is dry enough to pick up, I can hang it on the wall and sit back and stare at it.  I work on paintings on the floor mostly, just hanging them on the wall to look at.

Inevitably it seems, the accidental process of starting these works and how they dry will suggest an entire landscape if I look long enough.  From this point, the kinds of forms to insert within this “landscape” start to come to mind.

Even though it is impossible to look at an image and not have some kind of associative reaction to it, I am probably more interested in the shape and colour of a figure, or tree, or whatever, more than any kind of narrative possibility.  I don’t care about story in painting because it’s impossible for me to look at my paintings and see only one thing.  Wether or not you have the same ideas as me about why certain images are included in a work, it is irrelevant.  The work is not about anything other than how you react to it.

As much as I don’t have many pre-conceptions when I start painting, nor do I have any real idea about finishing.  Each work reaches a point where something in it communicates to me that it’s done. Some kind of balance.

The difficult or problematic paintings seem to quite often be the ones where I feel it looks too “good” too soon.

The titles for works usually come at the very end, after I have finished working.  It is just a case of whatever word or phrase springs to mind after staring at it for long enough.  One thing I try not to do is really put puns, or jokes into the titles.  I don’t like the titles of paintings to try and tell me too much,, unless they have a very specific reference.

 

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