Imagination and memory


160810a Body Paint (2016) oil on canvas 45 x 28.5cm

Laura Owens (I think) said, “You have to make three-hundred bad paintings before you make the first decent one”. On that basis, I’m chalking this painting up as one of my “bad” three-hundred. … That said, I think it shows some kind of spirit, or something.

I was improvising, using the Pictionary method. The subject I gave myself was, “a woman with colour-wheels painted on her breasts”.

I didn’t use any reference images. I wanted to work “from imagination”. Somehow, the painting I finished up with struck me as kind of generic. Afterwards, I started remembering images that I’m sure fed into this picture. In this case, without me being conscious of it at the time, “working from imagination” involved a lot of “working from memories” of other people’s work. I thought I was evoking some kind of archetype, which I sort of was, but it was assembled via specific sources.

Here are the images that I think influenced me, in the order that they came into my life.


Tim Burton Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Kitsch camp suburban glamour, with a cigarette and extra-long nail extensions. Edward Scissorhand‘s Joyce is probably the original subconscious source of my colour-wheel lady.


Steven Meisel (1990)

The dangling cigarette probably came from this Meisel photograph of Madonna.


Jeff Koons Woman in Tub (1988) porcelain 60.3 x 91.4 x 68.6cm

Koons’ Woman in Tub might be the source of the cropped face and the connection between breasts and hands.


Richard Phillips Scout (1999) oil on linen 259.1 x 177.8cm

Scout, by Richard Phillips, combines the exposed breasts and covered eyes, and I know this painting well from a reproduction in Art Now (I don’t remember which volume).

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 13.43.32

Lisa Yuskavage PieFace (2008) oil on linen 121.9 x 102.2cm

More recently, Yuskavage’s PieFace and Currin’s Twisting Girl both made an impression on me, especially the asymmetrical breasts in PieFace. In these paintings, the asymmetry of the breasts is justified by the position of the arms in PieFace, and the movement in Twisting Girl. It’s interesting that I reproduced this asymmetry, but without a proper motivating reason for it, so that the breasts in my painting simply sit (or hover?) awkwardly lopsided with no explanation of why (the shoulders aren’t slanting that much), and no compositional balance. In fact, everything in the composition exacerbates their inexplicable lopsidedness.


John Currin Twisting Girl (1997) [anyone have the details on this painting? let me know]

In future, I’m going to try being more aware of what sources my memory is drawing from, and how I use them.

ps. I don’t have time to address it in this post, but I’m aware that these images all present the female body in ways that might be seen as problematic (or in the case of my painting, a transgendered body). Representation of gendered bodies is a whole other topic, and I’ll get to it soon. Until then, here’s art history’s most famous female-torso-as-face image, which Magritte very aptly titled Le Viol [The Rape].


René Magritte Le Viol [The Rape] 1935 oil on canvas

pps. Last week I saw this poster (below) in the Rolling Stones exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, London. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen it before, but evidently it pre-dates my painting by forty years, and got in first with the no-face-and-painted-tits subject matter. The lesson I’m taking from this is: if you move your painting into the world of archetypal ‘pop’ imagery then you can’t be surprised to find that it’s an echo chamber in there.


The Rolling Stones Angie [german picture sleave design for 7-inch single] (1973) (anyone know the photographer or designer of this image? let me know, thanks!)


5 thoughts on “Imagination and memory

  1. Pingback: Keepin’ on colour wheelin’ | dailydaub

  2. Pingback: Unintentional emulation | dailydaub

  3. Pingback: Cryptomnesia | dailydaub

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