Square paintings can be hard to figure out. It’s impossible to hide in them because everything can be blindingly obvious and the balance is so absolute. I started "Washing the Gasoline Dream" in the summer of 2015 as part of the body of work for “The Garden of Opposites”, my most recent exhibition at the John Martin Gallery.
I am well used to paintings dictating their own rhythm and tempo but even at that, this one felt like it ran away from me a few times. Looking at it now I realise it was trying to nudge me towards a new direction. Nothing more than a feeling but I am happy to be led on a new path. Here is the start of that journey:
This is it on the left. I started it with a differently coloured oil wash than usual, just to rattle its cage. Then I crept in from the edges without any real definition or any idea of what to do. At that stage I became aware that I was working from my head, and the painting hadn’t engaged with me yet.
I went a bit mad with an ugly green here, just to see if that would loosen things up a bit. Once that dried I put in a pink that got mixed up with a bit of orange. The orange was an accident but I liked the effect and that mix became one of my new favourites. Then I set the canvas aside to dry for a while.
The blue semi-circle on the left came from the two large canvases I was working on at the time. A week or so later I added the blue sculptural shapes, like stress balls stacked on top of each other. The stern vertical green made more sense then.
That's now January and the pieces for The Garden of Opposite started to consolidate into a cohesive body of work. At that stage I had to down the brushes and just hang around the pieces for a few weeks, watching paint dry. I think in order to be an artist I needed to learn to do nothing, but do it well. Doing nothing isn’t being passive. It's watching attentively without interfering. It’s important to wait for things to sort themselves out in my head as well as in the paintings. Then we begin again. Round 22…
I arranged the canvases so I could view them together, watching them cross-pollinate. I could see shapes jumping from one to another, no longer sitting back but standing close, getting ready to pick up a brush again. Entering the work after all this time is sometimes quite explosive and I might grab the first brush I can get my hands on, old dregs of paint and all. I added more of that orangey brown back in.
I put a dusty, diesel flavoured, bluish-green oil wash over all the hot colours. I started not to care because I resigned myself to the fact that this piece simply wasn’t gonna finish in time for my show in May. There is a type of freedom I only find if I truly don't care about the outcome.
This yellow shape entered a while later and got that Naples yellow shadow (in the next image). I was starting to enjoy the piece.
A few weeks later the pink traveled in from the east with a pure, vanilla-white melting shadow. Things were beginning to happen in my little square world, Tom Waits rocking in the background. The dour green circle in the left corner kept the yellow shape and its pink neighbour in check and I knew it was safe to leave the studio.
A crisp, strong white to inflate things a bit more.
The light blue drips came in from the side and took a week or so to dry. Then I was at the jumping off point. I tried to recreate an effect I first discovered in “Seconds Away from Now”. I loaded up a brush with black, viscous paint and began to draw this mechanical shape which I was planning to rework once it was semi-dry. In the end, instead of just doing it intuitively, I tried too hard and when it dried I didn’t like it.
A blue oil wash went over the whole dark mess.
I had some red left over from another painting and after the geometric shape fiasco didn’t really care much about anything so I just stuck it in there, left the studio and went to London for the opening of The Garden of Opposites.
When I got back from London I was completely buzzy with good joojoo. Exhibition openings are a bit nerve-wracking so I always draw a lot to steady myself. I went to Chinatown a few times and sat there for hours watching people and drawing. I am also sucker for cranes and scaffolding of which London always has plenty. They seem so efficient and mechanically beautiful. I returned to the studio with lots of shapes of distilled mechanical chopstick-geometry and that’s where the off-white yellow construct came from. I painted it first into "Washing The Gasoline Dream" and from there it entered another painting nearby.
The sky blue double-bubble on the left connected with the little circle next to the yellow and suspended all shapes and colours in changelessness. Finished.