Unintentional figuration

So far, I don’t plan paintings, I just keep practising with the paint: mixing, brushwork, supports, etc. This involves making a lot of random marks. Sometimes, when I look back, I see pictures in the marks – like seeing things in the clouds. Often I like how these pictures are painted, better than if I’d painted them on purpose.

It’s like Surrealist automatism, except I don’t set out to do it, and I don’t think the images emerge from my subconscious when I’m making them. If anything, it’s the seeing part of the process that might be the subconscious at work, like seeing images in a Rorschach.

This painting is the by-product of a colour-mixing exercise. Basically, I was using the paper to clean excess paint from my brush (because I hate to waste paint but don’t mind wasting paper, I guess?).


160721c (2016) oil on paper 40 x 30cm

Later, I saw a face in the marks. Now I can’t see the picture as abstract. I quite like the way the face is drawn and rendered: It seems sad, or anxious, looking forlornly out of the right edge of the picture. I’d say the painting is “expressive”, except that what I’m describing wasn’t expressed by me in the making, but only interpreted by me in the looking. (Barthes, Death of the Author, etc.)


Compositionally, the face is pushed up against the right edge of the picture, with no “looking room” in front of it. Behind, at some distance, I see a doorway at the top of a flight of stairs. The door is ajar, with light spilling in from beyond. The back wall is silhouetted purple and the glow coming through is dazzling white, lighting the floor a vivid yellow which reflects up the walls as a hot red.

If I’d intended to paint this light coming through a doorway, I wouldn’t have been able to do it with such bold economy. What happened by accident gives me ideas for things I might try in future, intentionally.


The “doorway” part of the painting makes me think of Howard Hodgkin.

Hodgkin, Howard, b.1932; Memories

Howard Hodgkin Memories (1997 – 99) oil on wood 119 x 176cm


6 thoughts on “Unintentional figuration

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