Painted Journeys

By nature I was the sort of child who loved peering into other worlds. Lucky enough to be brought up by the sea, I explored rock pools, loved snorkelling, was entranced by looking through my father’s microscope. Streams, the sea, fields and woods were my natural habitat - asking how and why was my natural state. Trying to see beyond, under or through the seemingly obvious was my childhood task. Not knowing and finding out are what drives me forward still.

My father was passionate about ancient civilizations and would plan wonderful trips to see ancient artworks, and the Lascaux caves were where I first made a deep connection with the magical properties of painting.  But my creative ‘epiphany’ happened in a physics lesson with Ted ‘Zom’ Chambers, when he pointed towards Ballard Down and said, ‘…do you know, every one of you will see the green of that hill in a different way’. That was the moment when I realised that there were not only philosophical but physical differences in the way each individual interprets the world. It gave me permission to see the world in my own way and start my artistic journey.

‘Painted Journeys’ is the title of a review of my work written by my friend and mentor Nathan Cohen. It is a wonderful title because it encapsulates my attitude to my work and work practice, and it is the title I now use for my body of creative work. Each painting is in itself a journey and each painting is a step along my journey. The beginning of each painting can be triggered by a memory, insight, glimpse, observation, imagining, experience in space, time or in one of these ‘other worlds’ that I peer into. It comes with abandoning the logical brain and becoming a visual being. ‘Doing to think’ is how Sir Ken Robinson describes it…and it takes the same suspension of everyday thought processes that listening to music does and allowing oneself to wander through the imagination – the most intriguing of other worlds.

Constructing, stretching and priming my canvases are important parts of my mental preparation for the work – an almost meditative process. The paints I use are top quality ’Old Holland’ oils as they are packed with pigment - the hues are rich and sumptuous. With them I use oil glazes - these are translucent, vivid and seem to emanate light on the canvas. Placed one over another, separate glazes mix to make other rich colours that glow like stained glass, creating light and space that disturbs the picture plane.

I paint directly on to the canvas with an idea to start my journey…often I set myself a question or a problem to solve. It could be colour and space or an experience that I then have to work through to some kind of balance or equilibrium from what might seem chaos or a difficulty – or, conversely, disruption of a surface or space that is too passive. The process of painting throws up unexpected new problems and that is where the relationship with the painting grows. It starts to tell me what it needs, and I know what I am doing in response whilst I am doing it.

Quite often a problem I have had with one painting will take me on to the next, so you will see what look like series, although the paintings may not have been painted in sequence. In fact, I do try to follow Diebenkorn’s advice ‘ Do not discover a subject’, because that could become a trap, but I often feel that it takes more than one painting to explore thoroughly my discoveries. This sometimes leads me to working on several paintings at the same time.

Each painting is interwoven with story-telling, or a personal narrative which dissolves at the finish. It could be a piece of music or a personal relationship that frames the process alongside the physical work, or visual puzzles that I have set myself. An important part of the journey is also the discoveries I make about my materials, and revealing their particular properties. I will explore a medium as far as I can – always telling myself to stay brave and take risks, even under the threat of destruction and failure. As I am interested in disjunction, I find accidents interesting and regard them as an important part of the creative process. I am also fascinated by ’edges’ and ambiguity – sea/land, order/chaos, monochrome/colour, architectural/organic space, inner/outer space, figurative/abstract images. And I need a kind of disjunction to either start or finish a work…doing, undoing, doing, undoing…weaving pictorial and real space, form and colour through time.

A painting is a record of a very particular journey through time – sometimes taking up to a year to complete. Over that time, another hour, or a different day would mean different influences, disruptions, decisions made and a different journey, therefore a different painting. At completion, my painting and I have often reached a destination I was neither expecting nor had planned and the painting has been through some kind of transformation. It could also become the start of another painting – the end becomes a new beginning.

Making a painting is an intense, self-contained experience full of questions and what ifs. When it is finished the painting has become ‘itself’, to be set free to form relationships with others and their imaginations.