Date as content (plus more transparency)

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160830a Transparency (2016) oil on canvas

Instead of putting the date in the corner of the canvas, or on the back, I tried putting it right into the composition. I think maybe I was thinking of the Mark Grotjahn show. Seeing the date like this made me think of WWII concentration camp tattoos, which is odd since I’ve never thought that when it was written on the back or smaller in the corner.

In regard to prominent production dates, On Kawara’s date series is the obvious precedent. I don’t know much about his practice, but I’m guessing his conceptual reasons are quite different to mine.

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On Kawara [installation view of Date Painting(s) in New York and 136 Other Cities, 2012]

I wrote the date and letter code on my painting before doing anything else, and it immediately broke up the space of the canvas. It made it seem like a page in a note book. That made me more confident about using the remaining space to continue practicing my painting in piecemeal sections, as opposed to composing a picture. Of course, it becomes its own kind of composition, but still I like the reduced pressure in the idea of using oil-on-canvas like a note book.

This reminds me of Keith Tyson’s Art Machine Proposals, although, as with Kawara, I don’t know much about Tyson’s work and doubt that we are pursuing the same conceptual ends.

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Keith Tyson Low Probability Artmachine Proposals. Neon T-Rex (2000) mixed media on watercolour paper 157 x 126cm

Several other artists’ work comes to mind when I look at 160830a Transparency, including the diagrammatic abstraction of Hilma af Klint (which also sometimes includes transparencies) and the appliquéd quilts of Tracey Emin.

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Hilma af Klint The Large Figure Paintings, nr 5, The Key to All Works to Date, Group III, The WU/Rosen Series (1907) (anyone have details on this painting? Please let me know, thanks!)

Hate and Power Can be a Terrible Thing 2004 by Tracey Emin born 1963

Tracey Emin Hate and Power Can be a Terrible Thing (2004)  textiles 270 x 206 x 0.3cm

While I was painting 160830a Transparency, I realised that I’d seen this kind of transparency effect before, in Kippenberger paintings like this one (below).

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Martin Kippenberger (anyone have details for this painting? Please let me know, thanks!)

While I was looking through Kippenberger’s work, I noticed a painting (see below) which features a shape similar to one that appears in Josef Albers’ Interaction of Colour. I don’t know if there’s a connection, but it’s something I might research another time.

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Martin Kippenberger Nachträglicher Entwurf zum Mahnmal gegen die falsche Sparsamkeit [Supplementary Proposal for a Monument Against False Economies] (1986) acrylic on canvas 180 x 150cm

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Josef Albers Plate VI-4 from Interaction of Colours (1963) Yale University Press, 50th Anniversary Edition, p.93

Colour and transparency

I first read about “transparency” in Rudolf Arnheim’s Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye (updated version, 1974) [pp.253 – 258]. I must have absorbed the basic idea, because I applied it without realising when I painted an octopus smoking a cigarette a few weeks ago.

Now I’ve encountered transparency again in Josef Alber’s Interaction of Colour (1963) [plates x-1 and xi-1 to xi-3]. Here’s one of the example images he provides.

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Josef Albers Plate x-1 from Interaction of Colour (1963) Yale University Press, 50th Anniversary edition p.113

Below is my loose experiment in the basic idea of transparency. At the bottom you can see a couple of fairly tidy experiments. The rest became a bit of a mess.

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160829 Transparency (2016) oil on canvas 40 x 30cm

Albers mentions Paul Klee in his text, and I was sometimes reminded of Klee while I was working on the transparency experiments.

A Young Lady's Adventure 1922 by Paul Klee 1879-1940

Paul Klee Abenteuer lines Fräuleins [A Young Lady’s Adventure] (1922) watercolour on paper 62.5 x 48cm

The transparency effect using outlines filled with colour also reminds me of Rufino Tamayo’s  Children Playing with Fire (below). For me, the flames in Tamayo’s painting almost appear to be lit from behind, like stained glass.

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Rufino Tamayo Children Playing with Fire (1947) oil on canvas 127 x 172cm

Turps Banana, issue #16

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Turps Banana magazine, issue #16, 2016

Got issue #16 of Turps Banana painting magazine, read it cover to cover, and found a lot of interest in it.

Katie Pratt’s interview with Jonathan Lasker touches on the exacting ways that he applies paint. In some sections of his paintings there are bundles of impasto trenches that seem to be woven together in a way that invites and defies the kind of reading I described in my post on overlapping brushstrokes. Of The Universal Frame of Reference series (one pictured below) he says:

“… those red, yellow and blue forms took about four days in a row of fourteen-hour days. … that’s very exhausting and I dread getting into them.”

They also take me a long time to look at, because I can’t resist trying to figure out how they interlock, in what order they were applied and how they were applied.

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Jonathan Lasker The Universal Frame of Reference (2014) oil on linen 229 x 305cm

This playing with the legibility of the way the paint was applied reminds me of the display caption that accompanied Charline von Heyl’s Jakealoo (below) when it was hanging in the Tate Modern’s Painting After Technology room. It said:

“The artist likes to play with our expectations about layering. At the top right, areas of bright colour are covered with a thin wash of white paint. In the corner below, a black framed window appears to reveal the layers beneath, but these colours are in fact painted on top of the white. Tricks like these emphasise the physical aspects of painting, at a time when viewers are accustomed to the virtual layers of digital space.”

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Charline von Heyl Jakealoo (2012) oil and acrylic on canvas 208.3 x 188cm

Issue #16 0f Turps Banana also featured three articles around perception and/or “disability”. I group them together here because, in different ways, I relate them to my own investigations into painting and my colour vision deficiency.

(1) Tim Buckwalter’s article on Marlon Mullen, a painter who is autistic and mute. Buckwalter is Director of Exhibitions at NIAD Art Centre, which, for more than thirty years, has helped artists with disabilities, including Mullen, to create art.

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Marlon Mullen Untitled (2014) acrylic on canvas 60.9 x 50.8cm

(2) Simon Bill’s article How can we think about abstract painting? Pt.2: Visual Perception, which reconsiders artistic abstraction in relation to neuropsychological insights into visual perception. What inspires me about Bill’s article is his science-friendly approach to understanding how we see art. I think neuropsychology will increasingly reveal to us how varied perception can be from person to person, and within one person in different states (of health, age, etc) and under different circumstances. In turn, I think this will shed light on all sorts of art mysteries in regard to taste and visual pleasure.

Bill’s article also includes a reproduction of Adelson’s checker board (below), which -apart from anything else – is a great reminder to painters that sometimes when you think you need to mix two shades, you really only need one. Believe it or not, ‘A’ and ‘B’ are exactly the same shade of grey.

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Edward H. Adelson’s checker board (1995)

(3) Suzanne Holtom’s article Slipping into a Glimpse: Braque and de Kooning with AutismAs with Simon Bill’s article, Holtom finds new perspectives on artistic abstraction by drawing on recent science – in this case, psychiatric research into autism. This is another one I need to re-read before I can say much about it, but I liked it.

I also like how Turps Banana includes reproductions of paintings by the authors of the articles. This issue included Dodo Magic, by Suzanne Haltom. In it, I see (and enjoy) echoes of Kandinsky, Gorky, and Picabia, and I’m intrigued by the description “oil and canvas thread on canvas”. I’m guessing that sections of painted canvas are sewn onto this canvas, and I’d like to see it in the flesh to see how that works.

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Suzanne Holtom Dodo Magic (2016) oil and canvas thread on canvas 100 x 130cm

Titles

Three times today I’ve thought about the significance of titles.

(1) Van Gogh Old Man in Sorrow (below) (1890), which he alternatively titled On the Threshold of Eternity (or At Eternity’s Gate, depending on translation).

I’m currently reading Van Gogh: The Complete Paintings by Ingo F. Walther and Rainer Metzler, 1 and they say of this painting:

Van Gogh […] linked up with his own younger days, reworking a piece he had done in The Hague and given a rather portentous title to (On the Threshold of Eternity), […]

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Vincent van Gogh Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity) (1890) oil on canvas 81 x 65cm

I’m not sure if they mean “portentous” in that the title is a portent of Van Gogh’s own death, which followed just months after the painting was made, or that the title On the Threshold of Eternity is “portentous” in the sense of being pompous or overly solemn. Either way, for me this title is an odd match for the painting.

I assume the implication is that the man is weeping over the imminence of his own death, but that never would have occurred to me based on the image alone. He looks fit enough. How close to death is he? Is he weeping because he knows he’s going to die very soon, and if he knows that then how does he know? Is he planning to take his own life, or is he terminally ill? It makes me wonder what the average life expectancy was in 1890. In any case, I find that title raises more questions than it answers, and somehow I prefer the more open mystery of Old Man in Sorrow.

(2) Martin Kippenberger Ich Kann beim besten Willen kein Hakenkreuz entdecken (With the Best Will in the World, I can’t See a Swastika) (1984)

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Martin Kippenberger Ich Kann beim besten Willen kein Hakenkreuz entdecken (With the Best Will in the World, I can’t See a Swastika) (1984) oil and silicone on canvas 160 x 133.8cm

Gregory Williams writes this 2 in his essay Jokes Interrupted: Martin Kippenberger’s Receding Punch Line:

Ultimately, the unstable output of the joke machine that churned relentlessly in Kippenberger’s studio did not prevent him from occasionally offering a picture composed of a more traditional set-up/punch line structure. Perhaps the best example of such a work is the legendary 1984 painting Ich Kann beim besten Willen kein Hakenkreuz entdecken [With the Best Will in the World, I can’t See a Swastika]. A medium-sized canvas painted in oil and silicone, it forms a clear separation between the picture itself, which stands in for the narrative background, and the title that provides the punch line. […] Without a title to provide context, this picture would likely remain stranded in the realm of pastiche, one more example of Kippenberger’s talent for stylistic quotation.

(3) Jules de Balincourt Blind Faith and Tunnel Vision (2005)

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Jules de Balincourt Blind Faith and Tunnel Vision (2005) oil and enamel on board 198.1 x 147.3cm

I don’t know if de Balincourt has ever discussed his intentions for this painting or its title, but on reading the title, my first impression was pretty clear:

The derelict city is our troubled world. Travelling down this road would be hopeless were it not for the rainbow of colours ahead (or above?). It requires tunnel vision in order to shut out the destruction all around and focus on the colours, and it takes blind faith to believe in the optimism of those colours sufficiently to follow them into the horizon.

That was my interpretation, but it’s difficult to know how much of it would be shared by other people viewing this. Also, even within my own interpretation, I’m not sure whether de Balincourt is observing that this blind faith and tunnel vision is (unfortunately) necessary for us in order to keep going in this world, or whether he’s suggesting that the destruction is caused by people who have blind faith and tunnel vision, and that if they stopped following their causes and saw the devastation around them, things could be improved.

Either way, for me this title and image work together poetically in a way that neither could do alone.


  1. Ingo F. Walther and Rainer Metzler Van Gogh: The Complete Paintings (2012, originally 1990) Taschen GmbH. p.587 
  2. Gregory Williams Jokes Interrupted: Martin Kippenberger’s Receding Punch Line, in Martin Kippenberger (2006) ed. Doris Krystof and Jessica Morgan, Tate Publishing. pp.45-6 

More perspective doodling

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160824a (2016) pencil and pen on paper 18.5 x 17.2cm

Sometimes when I’m doodling like this I think I ought to be using my time practising painting, but in the end  it probably saves time and money to just doodle ideas, rather than mixing up all the paint that I’d need to do this, and then the clean up afterwards, just to get a sort-of-cute picture that doesn’t matter much. If I make a doodle that I really like, I can always try it in paint afterwards.

The floating houses at the back of this picture remind me of Magritte’s Golconda, although the perspectival foreshortening of Magritte’s figures is much more subtle (almost non-existent) than the multiple vanishing points that I used on my houses.

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René Magritte Golconda (1953) oil on canvas 81 x 100cm

Multiple vanishing points

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160822 Perspective (2016) pencil and ballpoint pen on paper 21 x 28.7cm

Some perspective exercises, drawn from imagination. This one vaguely reminds me of paintings by Julie Mehretu.

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Julie Mehretu (anyone have details on this painting? let me know, thanks!)

I had forgotten how interesting it can be to use multiple vanishing points. The first one especially reminds me of van Gogh’s late interiors.

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160823g Two Vanishing Points (2016) pencil and ballpoint pen on paper 21 x 28.7cm

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Vincent van Gogh Bedroom at Arles (1888) oil on canvas 72 x 90cm

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160823h Three Vanishing Points (2016) pencil and ballpoint pen on paper 21 x 28.7cm

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160823i Five Vanishing Points (2016) pencil and ballpoint pen on paper 21.28.7cm

I enjoy Francis Bacon’s jarringly divergent vanishing points.

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Francis Bacon In Memory of George Dyer (1971) oil on canvas, each 198 x 147.5cm

More recently, Dexter Dalwood often uses multiple vanishing points. Sometimes a few …

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Dexter Dalwood Camp David (1999) oil on canvas 198 x 335cm

… and sometimes a lot.

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Dexter Dalwood Gorbachev’s Winter Retreat (2000) oil on canvas 198 x 236cm

Dalwood’s treatment of perspective is related to collage, which is also part of his practice alongside painting. This seems to build on the work of 1960s British Pop artists, like Richard Hamilton.

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Richard Hamilton Interior II (1964) oil paint, cellulose paint and printed paper on board 121 x 162cm

Conspicuous perspectival distortion and multiple vanishing points are also characteristic of work by artists linked to Dresden and the New Leipzig School, including Neo Rauch, Christoph Ruckhäberle, Matthias Weischer, David Schnell and Martin Kobe.

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Neo Rauch Revo (2010) oil on canvas 300 x 500cm

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Christoph Ruckhäberle (anyone have details on this painting? let me know, thanks!)

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Matthias Weischer Untitled (2016) oil on canvas 51 x 56cm

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David Schnell (anyone have details on this painting? let me know, thanks!)

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Martin Kobe Untitled (2010) acrylic on canvas 120 x 130cm

I also like the way Jules de Balincourt sometimes combines multiple vanishing points with a high and distant vantage point.

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Jules de Balincourt Temporary Dropout (2003) oil, spray and pen on board 101.6 x 121.9cm

Blue skies, Bad Painting and The Hairy Who

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George Condo Big Red (1996-97) oil on canvas 243.8 x 213.4cm

My painting 160801a Shit in a Shirt, with Blood (see below) took its starting point from this George Condo painting, Big Red. I painted a blue cloudy sky and, for once, I had the patience to let it dry before painting on top. I improvised the content, starting by borrowing the shiny red surface from Condo’s painting. While I was painting, it didn’t occur to me that the moist brown and red forms would look like shit or blood. The title came later. This appearance of unintentional or subconsciously motivated content might be related to the unintentional figuration and subconscious referencing that I’ve written about before, or it equally could be interpreted as painting-as-symptom … or maybe I’m getting carried away with interpretation itself.

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160801a Shit in a Shirt, with Blood (2016) oil on paper 24.5 x 35.5cm

My first reaction was that I didn’t like the finished painting. In particular, the compositional relationships between the forms seemed really annoying. My disappointment reminded me that I’ve thought in the past that cartoonish blue skies are really difficult to use effectively. They’re such an obvious backdrop that sometimes they almost struck me as slightly dumb and thoughtless, even in the hands of painters whose work I really enjoy, like Magritte or Guston.

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Rene Magritte The Maimed (1948) gouache on paper (anyone know the dimensions? please let me know)

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Philip Guston Ramp (1979) oil on canvas 152.4 x 121.9cm

I think Guston actually said that blue was difficult to work with, or that he felt he’d never really mastered it. Certainly he used blue less frequently than his favoured black, white and cadmium red. When he does, it opens his claustrophobic spaces up to a kind of air and space that I find very different to the rest of his work.

Also, the blunt colours and wonky drawing in 160801a Shit in a Shirt, with Blood looked wrong to me in a way that I felt would always be irredeemably ugly and stupid in the eyes of other people. It reminded me of unskilled underground comic drawing, which for some reason I imagined would be totally unwanted in a contemporary painter. I’m actually really glad my painting came out that way because it prompted me to research my own assumptions about “bad painting”. I finally got around to researching the famous 1978 exhibition titled Bad Painting, which was interesting, although none of it looked much like mine.

There were other paintings that I associated with the particular style of drawing that had emerged in 160801a Shit in a Shirt, with Blood. The first was Carroll Dunham’s work from the 1980s.

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Carroll Dunham Fourth Pine (1982-83) mixed media on knotty pine 121.9 x 86.4cm

Then, somehow, I stumbled on the Wikipedia page on the “Chicago Imagists”, and in particular the Hairy Who artists from the 1960s. Some of their work seemed to fit my idea of “wrongness” even more than the Bad Painting artists. From the Hairy Who, paintings by Jim Nutt, Jim Falconer and Karl Winsum remind me of the forms in 160801a Shit in a Shirt, with Blood.

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Jim Nutt Miss E. Knows (1967) acrylic on plexiglass with collage elements 190.5 x 51.3cm

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Jim Falconer Morbid Sunshine by a Miner Artist (1966) (anyone have details on this painting? let me know, thanks!)

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Karl Wirsum (1980) (anyone have details on this painting? let me know, thanks!)

Karen Lennox’s description of the Hairy Who is good and clear I think:

“The Hairy Who sourced surrealism, Art Brut, and the comics. Pop art sourced the world of commercial advertising and popular illustration. One was very personal, the other anti-personal.”1

Part of what makes me see this aesthetic as “personal”, and in a way vulnerable and naive, is its resemblance to some outsider art, particularly the art of teenagers and people who are mentally ill. Perhaps the “wrongness” I associate with this family of styles is connected to a sense that artists whose work looks this way are more likely to be on the margins, or “outside”, the art world and society in general. Maybe I don’t want that for myself, and therefore it made me anxious to see something I’d painted going in that direction. I’m not sure. But whenever I get an instant negative reaction to something I’ve painted I like to try to analyse where that reaction is coming from. So far, I’m finding that process one of the most interesting things about painting. It leads me to research artists who I haven’t seen before, which also gives me new perspectives on artists that I’m already familiar with.

Colour swatches

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I made these colour swatches using my current set of W&N oil paints. I’m hoping they’ll be useful for planning colour schemes for paintings. I’ve written the mixture on each swatch, to make it easier to mix again when I want that colour. With my colour vision deficiency, it helps to have a system.

My copy of Josef Albers’ Interaction of Colour is due to arrive tomorrow. I’m excited.

Battered Sausage

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Battered Sausage poster (2014)

A friend of mine was searching for “battered sausage” on Google Images and he noticed a poster design (above) with a drawing style similar to how I used to draw about ten years ago, when I was very into Robert Crumb. He showed me, and it actually is one of my old drawings, from 2007. I’m flattered that they borrowed the image for their poster.

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Liam Cole 070728 Matt’s Jumbo Sausage (2007) pencil on paper 20.6 x 29.5cm

I sold it in an exhibition that year. If you’re the person who owns it, I’d love to hear from you. Please email me at liamcoleuk@gmail.com

This is a video of my work in that exhibition. Jumbo Sausage is at 00:14.