Working towards a show means being on my own in the studio for a year or more. A large part of that time is spent handling paint and canvases but most of my work and energy goes into distracting myself enough to allow the paintings to happen. I might read a couple of trashy thrillers to stop myself from messing up that canvas that is still too wet to work on. All the while I am sitting amongst the pieces just in case any of them reveal something new. I might head into the studio several times a day, sneaking peeks to see if a canvas is ready to be pushed further. Bouts of apprehension, gnawing doubt, false courage, impulsive decisions, layering of paint and the occasional mad bursts of clarity are all jumbled together while each piece finds itself. And then there comes the point when the painting is finished. It first comes as a long question and sometimes it takes me weeks to answer it. Once I am sure, I sign the canvas and although the painting part is done, the creative process continues.
The last few weeks leading up to the opening of “The Garden of Opposites” and the time I spent in London made me realise that everything that happens to the paintings after I down brushes is necessary for the pieces to become fully themselves. Giving them a title adds a dimension. Getting them photographed brings out aspects of their composition that were more a feeling than a fact until I got to see them in the balanced light of a photography studio. Wrapping and shipping them makes the paintings a reality in the world. And then the studio is empty and I don’t get to see the work until it's hung for the exhibition a few weeks later. Meeting “The Garden Of Opposites” in the light spaciousness of the new John Martin Gallery continued that creative process.
I find it quite nerve-wracking to see my work for the first time outside of the studio. I am usually too nervous to go straight to the gallery so I tend to circle the area, drinking coffee and trying to work up the courage to go in and see the show hanging. Eventually I find myself lurking on the opposite side of the road trying to catch a glimpse through the window. “Confessions of a Confetti Eater” was hanging there and somehow seeing it gave me the courage to enter.
I spent an hour or so looking at the work. Free from distraction or the need to change anything, the pieces unlocked themselves and I understood all over again what happened within each painting for me to create this body of work. The paintings “Seconds Away From Now” and “The Myth of Silence" were built up over 18 months and then slowly taken back to reveal the shapes underneath. Some of these deeply hidden structures began to come to the forefront in other, newer paintings. When I looked at the two large canvases “The Garden Of Opposites” and “Heaven And Hell Bear No Grudge Against Passing Yellows” I realised how they had infused the work around them with a new energy, pollinating others with their shapes and colours.
“Knowing Asks The Silver Well” has a blue sculptural shape that first appeared in the title piece “The Garden Of Opposites”. The column of blue dots in “Collecting Shapes After A Storm” landed in “Metadata Of Moonlight” and the blue shape in "Untitled But Unique” started its life in the larger painting “The Tragedy Of Romantic Diagrams”. I think some of the lightness in this body of work came from a change in scale and orientation of some of the canvases. For years I gravitated towards landscape canvases. Inspired by a few pieces in a previous body of work, I decided to challenge myself by including more square and portrait pieces. The squares drove me to the edge because I had to find a completely different way to navigate their symmetry. While I was standing in the gallery, waiting for the show to open, I suddenly saw that it was the squares that gave me the confidence to expand into the two large paintings without cluttering them. I had never worked on single panel pieces that size before.
I get a lot out of seeing my work in those few hours before the show opens. Then the people arrive and I get to recognise the work in yet another way. Answering questions and trying to explain how certain areas came together often brings out something that I had already forgotten or never rationalised before. I hear what other people see and how the paintings make them feel. Suddenly there are so many different opinions and I realise that I too am now a spectator.
Moving through some of works in "The Garden of Opposites" are these linear structures that feel like engineering drawings for unmakeable projects. They came from drawings. I usually draw when I don't paint and I rarely do both together. I drew a lot in London trying to capture flavours of what was happening around me. Drawing also relaxes me – it's like a linear St John’s wort. Eventually the drawings enter the paintings. I think it's like a finger memory that practises its dance routine and goes on stage once its ready.
I did a lot of drawings in Chinatown. There was this tiny place called the Jen Café. It had the feng shui of an arrow head pointing into the mass of people streaming past its two window fronts with a Chinese woman serenely making dumplings amidst it all. I started doing chopstick structures while I was eating my noodles. These turned into boats of sticks and a pile of distorted cranes.
Something unusual happened when I got home after the opening. I never paint for at least a month or so after a show but I felt so energised by the work and by being in London that I went straight back to the studio and picked up those canvases that were already in the pool but didn’t get finished before the show. Some of the drawings I did in Chinatown popped up straight away as giant off-white structures.
I started playing with a new technique involving super-liquid paint shortly before the show. It felt too mad to fully run with it while all the pieces were nearly settled. I can already see how those London drawing shapes are connecting with the new painting elements and with this new body of work wide open I am ready to give things a lash and start again at the beginning of this creative journey.