New material: Wide brushes

As part of my effort to transition into bigger paintings, I’ve got some bigger brushes. The one on the right is a rough old 100mm thing from the hardware store, well used. The one on the left is from an art store, much smoother, 200mm wide.

In another “scaling up” exercise, my source image was this small painting on paper that I made in March:


1603p (2016) oil on paper 33 x 23cm

And this is the larger painting I’ve made using the same techniques:


161204 (2016) oil on canvas 88 x 65cm

The larger brushes and canvas enable a greater range of marks, from the 200mm brush (the large black areas at the bottom left of the picture) down to the smallest 1mm brush (the white marks on the right edge of the picture, half-way down). This is what I like about working larger: the extended vocabulary of large and small marks.

Another tool that I had to “scale up” was the ruler I use for painting straight lines. For the small painting, I used a 300mm ruler. For the larger painting I used a meter long piece of 2×1 timber.

This exercise has coincided with some interesting reading on brushstrokes. In David Salle’s book How to See, he writes about the brush-work of Alex Katz, Dana Schutz, and Francis Picabia, describing things that I also see and enjoy in their paintings. (I wrote about Katz’s brushwork here, and Schutz’s here)

(Salle on Schutz) “The scale of her brushstrokes is almost always right – the marks suit what they describe, and gesture is most often harnessed to the painting’s internal architecture, not just surface decoration.” p.58

(Salle on Katz) “… Katz uses the largest possible brush for each form, only switching to smaller, pointed brushes … for details like eyelashes or buttonholes,… Katz uses the least number of brushstrokes to set the scene…” p.135

(Salle on Picabia) “A cursive brush mark becomes an eyebrow, or a plump mouth, or any other part of a face. He had something of the sign painter’s way with a brush, attentive to the way an image could be simplified into a sign.” p.194

I also just started reading Rosalind Krauss’ book, Willem de Kooning Nonstop: Cherchez la femme. She quotes de Kooning on Chaim Soutine (a painter I’ve always liked):

(de Kooning on Soutine) “Maybe it’s the lushness of the paint. He builds up a surface that looks like a material, like a substance.” p.12

Krauss says of de Kooning’s painting:

“In the new vocabulary he was developing, his earlier parallel penciled hatch marks were exchanged for the explosive smear of housepainter’s brushes. By the 1950s this brushstroke had become so seductive … that Jasper Johns, when he saw Bolton Landing (below), called it a “wonderful painting … [It] made me want to go out and buy a big brush”.” p.12

It’s funny how Bolton Landing looks similar to the paintings I made, because I’m not very familiar with de Kooning’s works, and if anything I would have seen my paintings in relation to Schutz or Oehlen or Kline. It’s fortunate that I started reading this book just after making my painting, otherwise I think the similarity to de Kooning would have put me off.


Willem de Kooning Bolton Landing (1957) oil on canvas 212.7 x 188cm


12 thoughts on “New material: Wide brushes

  1. I hope the need to experiment and practise technique won’t limit your power. Why should it.? Larger scale just for the sake of it is, of course, not meritorious. There is enough new discovery and potency evident in what you have so far said to nonetheless warrant it. How I envy your ability to transmit your experience in painting. To talk about the impact of someone’s work is in itself an art – you’ve extracted a few above – but to convey the experience from your end of the brush is quite something else. Thanks


    • I’ve wanted to work bigger for a long time, but it never worked out. I love big pictures, and I especially love the relationship between a big picture and a small reproduction of it. It’s not just the size of the picture, it’s the range of the size of the marks, and the space for gestures relative to the artist’s body.


      • I like big pictures too. Never asked why until now, so enjoying your trains of ideas: range of size of marks, space for gestures, relationship to your own size.

        There is always an amplification available to me in my viewing of a large picture. I think it’s more than visceral.

        Your intellectualising is always provided in your lived learner-painter context. Christ that’s a relief. And pleasing for someone whose interest is to enjoy what you share.

        I have a friend who writes scholarly articles on the culture of piss, from his university ivory tower in Chicago. I’m trying to get him to “live it” in a blog, or better, a vlog. Mainly because it sounds less valid without context. And even detailed fly on the wall descriptions can’t mask the gap.

        I think this is a cheeky tick to your example of tying where you are at, in your thinking and your daubing, to sound theory and wonderful important or usefully comparative works!


      • Well, I’m cheeky. Beyond amusing sometimes. A tick is an endorsement – like a teacher’s tick on a correct written answer in a test or exam. O wait, you’re post hand writing. The cheeky bit was the analogy to my piss academic. He cops it all the time, and not just from me. Oh here we go again, this time a cheeky piss-take of someone not in the conversation to defend himself.

        Importantly, I am saying that whatever you put into your blog Liam is always tied to your work or your conceiving of your art and your progress in some way. It has an immediate relevance which is straight away obvious to a reader who has followed you. Huge value, because it’s not mere theory or reporting. So, your Caravaggio favourites, for instance are grounded straight away in technique that you respond to – amongst other aspect no doubt.

        Interestingly, when you start full bore, or if you have started full bore into painting, you probably won’t be as reflective on why or how you have made your work. It will be the overflowing sum of all your schooling and practising and thinking and observing – and then you can leave it to the chatterers to unpack it.

        I get a lift out of it all.


      • That’s good to know. I was asking because here “a ticking off” means a criticism. I don’t know when or how I would start painting “full bore”, I just know that all my favourite painters seem to take about ten years of painting before they start producing things that I like. And I’m in my first year… But I think “unpacking it” is a creative process also, and one of my favourite artists, Mike Kelley, often wrote commentaries about his own work, which included engagement with critics’ commentaries. I get a lift out of all this too!


      • I’m no psych coach, but don’t ffs be intimidated. Meanwhile you are clearly organic in thinking and doing and thinking about the doing of your painting. What more? validation? That question is not rhetorical – this is not a lecture, I am wondering about your feelings on this as I write because of your somewhat rueful comment about 10 years I was tempted to employ the verb “to strive” and had to check myself for condescension. 10 years, 20 years, whatever. And you might be Caravaggio and smash it straight away.

        There seems an urgency in your daubs Liam as well as sureness. I’ve only just verbalised that on the run too – but know that I’ve realised it all along. So even your exercise and experimental work exhibits this. You’re very pregnant mate.

        It’s best if I cut off the verbiage now and wait for a new daub or two to retest my meandering, assertive, and not humble enough efforts.

        But wait, there’s more. I’ll say it again, I’m thankful for your communicating back. There’s an imbalance – I’m simply consuming and regurgitating – while you make and make available what is intensely personal.


      • Laim it seems I am unable to post a link in this space. Would you let me have an email address to send you something on colour? 100º today in Sydney. I like the old scale. Heat is far more of an issue here than cold, so to know we are sweltering in the abolute epitome of unbearableness is somehow more satisfying that 38.6 I’m not sure what scale UK uses.


      • Liam I can’t find where you mentioned that Roberta Smith liked a tweet of yours – have I got that right? I wanted to look for the interview with her and ??? whose name I now forget and can’t find.


  2. there is more than an offhand parallel between your daubs and de Kooning for my money. Don’t blush because of it nor back off from where you are instinctively heading. While you are consciously pushing the boundaries and uncovering possibility in the crafting side of things there will be inevitably references from everywhere. But you will take your painting where no one has gone – regardless. That is not an unknowing suckup. More than I can outline, you will know better that I am right.


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