It's About Time

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Painting is kind of a mad thing to do. Being an electrician or baker has obvious merit. Being a doctor is almost saintly. Being an abstract painter seems an inch away from being seen as a causality of society. Being a poet is probably worse, but I don’t know many poets so I can’t say for sure.

What some people find mind-boggling is that I am a ‘slow’ abstract painter. I mean if you are going to do something that doesn’t make any sense or represent reality you might as well have the decency to be quick about it.

But time is hard to pin down. The 24-hour time structure we inhabit was created to ensure we all show up for work on time. To show up for the work I do, I have to step out of that stream of time. The way I paint takes time. Time to do, time to undo, time to look, time to waste. If you view the stream of time as an accumulation of conditioning then, as a painter, you try to shake off that conditioning in the hope of doing something different to your known knowladge. Through continuous work, you try to slip into a fresh patch of inspiration and keep moving forward.

Paint can be applied in different ways. With a sweeping brush, a bunched up rag, as dots or drips, flung straight from the tin or in the case of Hokusai applied to the feet of chickens that you chase around the canvas. The mood merits the method, and everything depends on your form on the day. 

As I paint, I see the history of previous months work disappearing under each new brush stroke. Laughing time in the face, I have to be willing to destroy months of creation and start from scratch at any moment. It’s important not to have a sense of accumulation through time.

For a finished painting to look spontaneous, I need to reject many of its strokes and redo them again and again. There might be weeks or months passing between each new attempt.

Long painting sessions are hemmed in by merciless sentries of self-doubt. They explode into the light-headed sugar rush of a painting session that feels connected. The unshakeable sense of purpose that follows such an episode eventually crumbles back into virulent uncertainty.  Just as you are about to give up for the tenth time, there is this liberating exhale as the painting pulls itself together and just sits. Somehow you know it’s finished. Not always straight away. It might take weeks of looking at it as it sits there grinning back at you, but you know.

The finished work should have a ‘life-ness’ about it, a freshness mixed in equal measure with a sense of gravitas, a timeless quality.