Tag Archives: contemporary painting

Encounters 2019

19 Nov

I was very happy to take part in the return of Encounters this year.  This is a project, initiated by Ted Eames in 2017/18, in which artists are paired with poets to produce work for an exhibition.  For this second Encounters show, I was paired with Graham Attenborough.

The suggested approach is that each participant responds to work produced by the other.  Graham and I took a slightly different approach with our collaboration. We met at my studio, and whilst we got to know each other’s past work and felt inspired by it, we agreed at an early stage that it would be good for both to produce new work either jointly, or independently, on a similar subject.

Throughout the last 12 months, I have worked on projects with a number of different artists, writers and other practitioners, and I have no preconceptions about how a collaboration should be, although I am always hopeful that the partner will see the value in joining me on a walk.  Whether the project is about a specific place or not, walking creates a space for dialogue and sharing thoughts whilst moving through a stream of chance encounters and stimuli.  The rhythm of walking means it is very difficult to replicate the particular kind of conversation that results in any other way.

So I was delighted that Graham was open to starting off the process with a walk in the Rea Brook Valley in Shrewsbury.  I have already produced a series of small paintings and a short film in response to the Rea Brook Valley and its surrounding areas.  This is a place where considerable new development  is taking place and the rural or wooded landscape along the valley that extends into the heart of the town, is slowly becoming squeezed and degraded.  Graham walks his dog in part of the valley near his house, but had not previously visited the area we walked in.

In a true psychogeographical dérive, we had no defined route, so we meandered in and out of the valley pathways through new housing estates, across a golf course, building sites, retail parks and woodland, often encountering barriers and resistance.

 

We took guidance from our shared belief in that great spiritual leader, Mr Mark E Smith.  Graham recited from some of Smith’s lyrics including one song titled Dice Man, which shares its name with the somewhat controversial book by Luke Reinhart.

Our conversation on the walk also meandered around the connectedness of everything, the role of chance, determinacy, control and privatisation of space and the homogenising spectacle of neoliberalism.  The themes of our conversation weave into the work that we went on to make independently.  The views that presented themselves to us, were lit with such clarity in the bright summers morning, that there did not seem to be much room for abstraction, expressionism or impressionism.

 

 

I had initially considered making a filmpoem which could combine both mine and Graham’s work, but it was uncertain how long it may take for Graham to complete his writing for me to incorporate into the film.  I decided upon painting, rather than simply using the photographs I had taken.  The gravitas, the time and effort, of painting seemed necessary to highlight the depressing, absurdity of the scenery.

 

 

It also seemed that a single painting could not convey the experience of the walk. so I alighted on the idea of using a cube, its six sides allowing me to include six paintings to represent the walk.  I have seen other artists use 3D geometric shapes for paintings, but I wasn’t aware of anyone attempting to record a walk in this way.  The way in which we remember walks is not necessarily a chronological series of fixed images, so enabling the viewer to interact with the work and find their own route through my series of paintings made sense.

Roller (Rea Brook)

Art and poetry are usually successful when they spark the imagination in the viewer.  There is always a relationship between the creator and the viewer or reader, which has the potential to be diminished slightly when two collaborators become absorbed in responding to each other’s work.  There is also a risk of one “merely” describing or illustrating the other’s work, thus reducing the scope for the viewer or reader to use their imagination.  I was aware that photorealist paintings coupled with a descriptive poem could have closed off space for imagination to roam, so I made a conscious attempt to counteract this, and the use of cubes and interactivity was one way.

Graham and I kept in touch whilst making our responses, and only met one last time to see and hear the finished pieces.  It was remarkable how the poem and paintings captured the walk, whilst we had also both included other themes leading the mind off the literal content.

from non-place to another (extract)

“…

whatever once was

sleeps in shadows now

all industry grows back to wild

but even here strange signs and symbols testify

conurbation’s belt still widens

smearing green to brown …”

© Graham Attenborough 2019

I had intended the cube also to be suggestive of dice, which links to the two dice I included in the assemblage.  These have no fixed interpretation.  The dice that is accessible to all is all 1s, whereas the dice which is only accessible to those privileged or bold enough to open the box, is all 6s, but only 6s.

The dice could also be an obtuse allusion to the new Shrewsbury Monopoly board.  Something designed to celebrate the distinctiveness of our town, yet the landscape we see, the development we are forced to accept, is one of almost uniformly bland mediocrity.  But at least in this country, it is relatively easy to find and use public footpaths and green spaces, unlike many other countries I have visited.  We should do all we can to protect them.

The closing lines of Graham’s poem comment that it doesn’t really matter any more … there are worse problems.