Notes on first exhibition

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Installation view Instinct #3 at VILLAGE, April 2017. Paintings on the left are by Atis Jakobsons; paintings on the right are mine. (photograph: Mathias Vef)

This is the first time I’ve had paintings on public display. Thanks again Russell Harris and Eric Le Rouge for including my paintings in Instinct #3 at VILLAGE, Berlin. The exhibition is open until 30th April 2017. More information here.

Below, my paintings in this exhibition:

Here are my notes (to myself) on the experience:

Size.
I like the scale of my largest painting here (170227 Pinocchio in Love, 117.5 x 100cm). I want to go larger still. Heights and widths of between 150cm – 400cm seem to be a good size for the kind of picture I like, without it feeling like a mural. That size range includes most of my favourite paintings by Bacon, Guston, Katz, Condo, Kippenberger, Oehlen, Rauch, Schutz, de Balincourt, etc. I don’t currently have the space to make paintings larger than 100cm x 180cm, so I need to work on that.

Stretchers and frames.
We chose not to spend money on stretching and framing my paintings, partly because (unless they’re sold) they’ll need to be transported back to the UK at the end of the exhibition. The organisers did a great job fixing the unstretched canvases to boards, with the canvas edges showing, but now I’m curious to see how the paintings would look if they were stretched, and maybe in tray frames with a black or wood finish. Expense and practicality are obstacles, but I think it might be important in the way it creates a contrast between the clean parameters of the picture and the messy action within.

The hang.
I hung some of the paintings clustered together. I enjoyed hanging three of them together to form the shape of two eyes and a smiling mouth. However, now I’d like to see how the paintings would look hung in a row with more space around them.

Composition.
These paintings were made between 17th – 28th of February 2017. Looking at them now, I see they all contain large objects that are cut off by the edges of the pictures. This was a habit I didn’t question at the time. I’d be more aware of that now, making more of a conscious choice about what I’m trying to achieve with the composition.

Pattern and depth.
I was pleasantly surprised by the impression of depth in 170227 Pinocchio in Love, but I also noticed that, in these paintings, I’d mostly chosen to render objects using illusionistic devices to create depth and three-dimensionality (perspectival drawing, drop shadows, shadow to create form, composition in space, etc.) and very rarely combined that with a flatter style of representation which would have allowed for passages of surface pattern (as in, for example, Matisse, or more recently, Ryan Mosley and Ella Kruglyanskaya, among others). In future I’ll try to keep both possibilities in mind, and think about the ways they can be combined in one picture.

References / influences.
In a conversation about my paintings, Paul McCarthy was mentioned. Around 2000 – 2008 I was very interested in McCarthy’s work. I still enjoy it now, although I don’t think about it often in regard to my painting. On reflection, his influence can clearly be found in these pinocchio paintings, most directly from work like the Tomato Heads (below).

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Paul McCarthy Tomato Head (Green) (1994) fiberglass, urethane, rubber, metal, plastic, fabric and painted metal base, height 218.4cm.

Philip Guston was also mentioned, which surprised me because I don’t see much of his influence in these paintings, although I’m very happy for it to be there.

Somebody else mentioned Frans Hals in relation to my brush work in 170227 Pinocchio in Love. This is a connection that never would have occurred to me, but I can see it in a painting like Malle Babbe (below). I’m pretty sure I picked up that kind of technique from looking at Neo Rauch paintings. Perhaps Rauch got it from Hals. Next time I’m at the National Gallery I’ll have a close look at the Hals they have there.

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Frans Hals Malle Babbe (1633-1635) oil on canvas 75 x 64cm

Colour.
Some people said they’d like to see my paintings in colour. Even when I told them I was colour blind, they urged me to paint in colour (with the usual suggestion that my colour blindness could be a “good thing”). I think there are two reasons that these black and white paintings seem to ask for colour: They show recognisable things that we know are coloured (skies, plants, flowers); and they’re made of many shades of grey, like a colour picture that has been made black and white. I love colour so much, probably I’ll try it again, maybe soon. In any case, what I learn from making black and white paintings can be applied to colour painting, so it works out either way.

Discourse.
In conversation with other artists, it’s interesting to find the discrepancies in our shared knowledge of art, particularly of living artists. There were names mentioned to me that I didn’t recognise, and some that I mentioned to others that were unfamiliar to them, including:  Peter Saul, Carroll Dunham, The Chicago Imagists, Albert Oehlen, Charline von Heyl, Jutta Koether, Dana Schutz, and David Joselit’s “networked painting” essay. For better or worse, there don’t seem to be any particular theories, styles, or movements that are relevant and known to everyone, so the “discourse” is very loose and the work diverse.

Subject matter.
When the paintings were up, I thought about content, and all the things I censor myself from painting, and wonder, “What am I afraid of?”, and “What else would I paint anyway?”. I’m curious to find out.

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14 thoughts on “Notes on first exhibition

  1. Pingback: Colour revisited (tiny) | dailydaub

  2. I have only now gotten around to reading your notes on the Instinct#3 exhibition. I can’t really absorb and remark on your notes yet, Liam, I’m simply amazed and thrilled for you that you got to this stage – after being chosen, no doubt endless discussion on the project’s theme and how you might answer it, all your concentration on getting the works together, getting them to Berlin, getting yourself there, publicity, hanging, negotiation of the space with others, communing with the others, the opening, your feelings and feedback. This list is, of course, just for me, vomited out as I write, but successful in blotting out your paintings and your own thoughts in favour of simply giving you my praise and congratulations.

    I’ll get back to all this though

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    • Actually, there was no discussion at all! Russell told me which paintings of mine he liked, but I’d already sold them so I told him that I make new paintings every day and that I’d send pictures of them to him each night. After a couple of weeks he and Eric chose five of the ones I sent. That was it. So far the main thing that has resulted from the experience is that I’m back on colour. 🙂

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      • ha ha, the mundane truth of it. Well, I’m glad you are selling paintings. I browsed the other painters. The whole show is full of life. If that sounds trite, just go to any random exhibition of current art and see how devoid of interest much of it is. So I followed through on a lot of them and was very struck by Russell Harris. Hard to classify and always arresting, but not in a stunty way.

        Well, you’re reflecting a bit of fertile stuff after the exhibition. Colour, again? Painting on very large canvasses will keep you honest for a while! You’ve intimated before that there is a challenge in this you simply haven’t have the opportunity to tackle, or maybe to succeed with. I’m imagining new possibilities arising from the sheer physicality involved in execution – and of course the challenge of mastering this.

        Have you seen Dana Schutz’s Fight in an Elevator 2015? I saw a photo of it in a New Yorker article on the current Whitney Biennial. Here’s what the critic said: “Dana Schutz is a new master, with subjects that are frankly goofy—people and giant insects piled together in an elevator, for instance—but which she renders with powerfully volumetric, big-brushed forms that are at once lyrical and monumental.” Anyway, this painting reminds me of a number of your compositions.

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      • Russell is a wonderful fellow and I’m very grateful to him for inviting me to be in the exhibition. How will painting on large canvases keep me honest? That’s an interesting idea. I actually have a big black and white painting that I started before going to Berlin, the biggest yet, and I haven’t finished it yet. It’s in my garage. The colour paintings I’m doing now are all small again, because I can try things more quickly and cheaply that way. To make a painting that is in colour AND big – that’s something to work toward, but it’s also expensive and I’m learning enough from making the small ones, for now. I know the Schutz painting you’re talking about. Over the years her compositions have become very packed-in and squashed against the edges, and I tend to do that – although I’m trying to compose with more open spaces. Her elevator paintings are a spectacle of skill but I don’t actually like them very much. In terms of composition, I prefer an earlier painting by her called Twister Mat, although I don’t really know why.

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  3. “keep you honest” isn’t so transparent here. What I mean is a backhanded compliment your facility in smaller works. You have described your ease with the brush on this scale and have wondered aloud about the challenge of painting large. I’m surmising that painting on huge canvasses will give you lots to work on, lots you haven’t even discovered yet. It won’t be a breeze and in keeping you more occupied (even) will keep you hones, i.e. out of trouble.

    Twister Mat is actually more you than the elevator painting – but that’s where I think you are heading hehe. Now don’t ask why, that was an unbidden retort. I liked it and I’m not a great fan of hers earlier work. I also like the Open Casket painting which has revived an argument I’m now sick of about white artists appropriating black history and imagining and representing black pain etc. But she has got technique coming out of her ears and I guess she has staked some turf. I was intrigued by Peter Schjeldahl’s (I think) acticle quoted before and, particularly, the words: “she renders with powerfully volumetric, big-brushed forms that are at once lyrical and monumental”. That’s what you are itching to do. You are already creating lyrical small scale forms. I’m convinced of the interior, barely conscious-in-advance power of brushwork to make its own meanings, so I’m licking my lips here.

    I know I’m long winded.

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      • Your réponse reminds me how full of bullshit I am.

        I’ve just seen a review of the American show on at the RA and I saw Philip Guston’s Bombardment from 1937. I like the composition here and while I was looking at it, it struck me that your paintings often have the same “look”, not compositionally so much as technically, “paintingly”.

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      • Not at all! I just had to write something short because I knew if I got into something longer I’d use up valuable painting time. That’s interesting that you saw that in the Guston picture. I’m not so fond of his painting technically from that time, I find the surfaces a bit over finessed and mannered, but in general I’m always happy if Guston’s name comes up in relation to my paintings because he’s such a funky master.

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      • Liam Cole, your good manners are beyond my colonial breeding. Now, this is a direction: always have a grin on your face when you speak to me. I have many doubts about myself, but none about you. And I say that with a grin. A big one. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: New material: Paper | dailydaub

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