Until now, I’ve painted using a small easel that can take canvases up to about 50cm tall. Anything larger had to painted flat on a table, or on a board precariously fixed to the table. It was very awkward, difficult to get a proper view of the painting, light reflecting up off the paint, etc. Often I painted small paintings, because it was more comfortable and easier to see what I was doing (like the two below). Then afterwards I’d wonder what they would be like if they were larger.
Recently, for the first time, I sold some of my paintings. Now I’ve used part of the money to buy a studio easel, large enough to hold canvases up to 215cm tall. It makes a huge difference! This is the first painting I’ve made on it (below). Improvising (or I like to call it “doodling”) on a larger scale is different too, but I’m looking forward to doing it more.
The axe/penis idea comes from a sculpture I made in 2006, called Bedroom Door (below). Back then a lot of my work hinted at violent or traumatic sexual themes, influenced, I think, by Francis Bacon, TV dramas by Dennis Potter, and films including Laughton’s Night of the Hunter (1955), Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), Waters’ Multiple Maniacs (1970), Roeg’s Don’t Look Now! (1973), Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), and Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986). Now I’m less comfortable working with those themes. I can still get back into inventing in that register, but the results give me a feeling of futility or sadness, or I feel embarrassed by them and doubtful about their value – Why create something unpleasant?
I think that’s a result of my own personal development, but also to changing times. In the 90s, I was also interested in a lot of contemporary art that touched on the “abject”, including Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Cindy Sherman, Bruce Nauman, Gregor Schneider, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Tracey Emin, Tim Noble and Sue Webster, and Damien Hirst. Hal Fosters’ latest book Bad New Days, includes an essay titled Abject that describes that tendency in the art of the 1980s and 90s. I found it an interesting reminder that nominally “shocking” content was, for a while, commonplace, and became so frequent and familiar that I experienced it almost as an uncomplicated ritualised entertainment.
The “abject” or “shock” tendency in art of that time is also covered in the second episode of Matthew Collings’ 1999 TV series This is Modern Art. The episode, titled Shock! Horror! (below), includes work by many of the same names (in order of appearance): Paul McCarthy, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Piero Manzoni, Damien Hirst, Francisco Goya, Sarah Lucas, Marcus Harvey, Sam Taylor Wood, Tracey Emin, Edvard Munch, Diego Velazquez, Francis Bacon, Gilbert and George, and Vito Acconci.