Abstract Painting commission

Abstract Painting commission
Abstract Painting Commission

Monday, 23 November 2015

Inspirations from the Tate Modern, November 2015




On my day out to see Ai Weiwei’s exhibition I took the opportunity to do some further research and to look for painting inspirations in the Tate Modern. Limiting myself to the free exhibits I was interested in narrowing it down to just the Energy and Process and Making Traces rooms. I was a bit disappointed in the painting selection, but there were a few key items that took me, and one completely unexpected body of work encompassing drawing, sculpture and performance by Rebecca Horn that was a real surprise.


First of all, the paintings.


Giorgio Griffa, Segni Orizzontali, Acrylic paint on canvas, 1975

This piece was of interest to me initially because the painting isn’t attached to a canvas stretcher, it’s simply painted straight onto canvas and pinned to the wall. There is a relationship between Griffa's use of the canvas material as a raw object to how I apply gloss paint in the more process-led paintings where it wraps around the surface sides of the painting to amplify the three dimensionality of the painting's surface.


Giorgio Griffa, Segni Orizzontali, 1975 at the Tate Modern, November 2015


Griffa is recording the process of painting which I feel is making a statement just about process. He uses a harmonious sequence of colours developing from one line to the next but after four lines of marks the brushstrokes taper off into nothing leaving the remainder of the canvas bare.


To me this is initially interesting but it feels incomplete, as though he’s given up on the painting and lost interest once he’s proved his point.


There is always a question raised when you do a painting of when to stop and how to know it’s finished. Perhaps he’d planned to stop at the moment he felt the point was made and that would be the end of the painting. Perhaps a second half of making that half finished painting into a statement about art is in the practice of folding the canvas up when in storage to retain the creases that will be prominent in its next display.


My initial interest was fulfilled quickly but I didn’t want to stand and stare at it or to come back for another look, the idea was quickly digested and I moved on in search of more.


Cy Twombly Untitled (Bacchus), 2008


I was particularly looking forward to re-acquainting myself with the work of Cy Twombly; massive, expressive canvasses with giant gestural marks of free flowing paint. Immersively large scale and full of impact. 

I’ve always enjoyed doing large canvases, they are expensive to make and quite a big gamble to undertake given the cost involved to do one but when I do it pays off, the bigger paintings always lend themselves to space and freedom well for me and I feel able to stretch out and explore the space. I never like to waste resources or money so I know if I don’t get it right I won’t be a happy bunny.  


Cy must have either been a wealthy man or he had big confidence that these would work, which is lucky as we can happily assume they have worked given they were made late on in his career. These three giant 'blood splatterings' of paintings are on display in their own room. They were painted using a brush attached to a long stick to achieve the huge swooping lines almost resembling handwriting.

Cy Twombly, Untitled (Bacchus), 2008 at the Tate Modern, November 2015

Detail from up close of Cy Twombly, Untitled (Bacchus), 2008 at the Tate Modern, November 2015


Cy said that he did paintings when he had an idea for them and so they came naturally. He let the painting idea and needs dictate the size of the canvas, which is also a concept I agree with. Some paintings can’t be contained into a limited space, it doesn’t work and the composition and scale don't work - and why work at a small scale when really you intended to paint at a large scale as that was the essence of the painting?


Another practice of Twombly’s I agree with is that he paints three or four paintings at the same time as a group which is another natural thing about painting. If I am to do one painting I inevitably have three or four other variations of the same piece in my head at the same time and they don't all belong in one painting. Each need to be expressed while the thought for it is there as they are separate entities and variations on the same theme. An example of this is in Abstract paintings numbered 1,2,3 and 4 (the first four paintings in my portfolio on my website). These were all painted at the same time, they are similar but they express different paces, compositions and colour balances and they enable me to be able to document the full range of the painting. The four paintings together in a way are of one painting, or one thought for a painting, yet they are separate and individual pieces where one thought leads to another and then another after that. It’s like a contained sequence of thought similar to the artist's whole body of work where in order to do a painting, another painting before that has informed it and then that painting leads on to more. A creative gateway has opened within a painting that generates broader thought and a proliferation of variations.

I’ve seen graphic designers work in this way too, they have an idea but there are various ways of executing it, then they can drill down on the one that works the best and progress that idea forwards to create one final piece, yet any of those ideas could have been a feasible outcome. And it’s similar in creating a body of work with painting, it’s possible to create endless outcomes in abstract painting but a direction will work the best and that’s what needs to be continued.


I feel there is a relationship between my working practices and those of Cy Twombly, from a purely abstract painting perspective, I like scale and multiples of paintings, I love his large scale gestures and I love the intuitive and un-forced approach to letting a painting happen and creating the painting that there is an idea sitting there for.


Tomma Abts, Zebe, 2010


I next spotted a small painting by Tomma Abts, Zebe (2010). My contemporaries in Two Queens had recommended that I take a look at her work due to my current predisposition to using geometrics and tight control in my latest work (currently in progress and no spoiler alerts here!).


Tomma Abts, Zebe (2010) on show at the Tate Modern, November 2015


This was a very small painting with an undercoat of acrylic painted over in oils, neatly and flatly painted only 48 x 38cm. A slight contrast to the paintings by Twombly!


Abts doesn’t need the 3-4 metre space to execute this neat and controlled painting and she methodically applies the paint out of which the forms and shapes emerge, readjusting until the composition is arrived at. So here she seems to use a combination of method and intuition then makes a decision at the point at which she thinks the painting has evolved to a stage that it’s done.


Here there also is an element, as there has been in my work, of the painting helping to determine itself. It seems to me that this is a process by which she works with the painting, again with a degree of intuition and some control over it. As I find, there is a point at which the painting can’t be controlled (despite a controlled style of painting) because that would incur precise planning and knowledge of the exact outcome (which would be detrimental to learning from the painting) and at this point does it then become a design? The end result of this painting due to the flatness of the paint does seem to look something of a design to me.


Making Traces exhibit


Mark Rothko (late 1950s)


I had run out of time when I reached the Rothko room, and only had time for a very quick photo and glimpse which was disappointing. I wanted to have time to sit and think about the work but we were being ushered out.

Mark Rothko paintings as part of the Making Traces exhibit at the Tate Modern, November 2015

There were nine paintings in this room, very very dimly lit and hung against a mid tone grey wall. All of them were deep red with varying compositions. The paintings had originally been commissioned for a restaurant and I felt that explained the lighting as they would have been seen at this light level. Which is an interesting layer to add to the thought behind the paintings.  


I felt as they were intended, claustrophobic, closed in and almost as though I were in a soundproof room, but visually soundproof. The light, painting colour and scale made everything feel muted and almost depressing due to the weight of the red, grey walls and the shapes within the paintings. A very heavy experience.


The board outside quoted Rothko to say of Michaelangelo, his influencer that he ‘achieved just the kind of feeling I’m after - he makes the viewers feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up, so that all they can do is butt their heads forever against the wall’. I couldn’t agree more and it wasn’t what I had expected to see.


Rebecca Horn


I mentioned earlier the surprise of the work by Rebecca Horn, an artist I was really not familiar with and whose work was not particularly directly related to mine, I didn’t think, also the work was quite a mix of video, performance, sculpture and drawing, so not an obvious choice but I did think it was rather exciting and interesting, probably because it freaked me out rather a lot.


Some of this was from the 1970s and other pieces were more recent work from 2005. It was the more recent body sized drawing-paintings that were the initial interest. Without reading the plaque the body sized marks and (almost bloody) fingerprints give an impression of the body and connect the marks on the canvas in a strong visual way. It’s incredibly clear to see and to feel the way in which the artist has applied the mediums to the paper, almost as clearly as though she had done it there and then in front of you. The marks left behind are raw and very exposed and I’ve not felt something communicate the action of the user in such an explicit way before. There seemed to be no barrier at all between the application and the viewing of the piece, which to me is really quite a freaky experience to feel given the theme of the work being meditation and energy, I really felt it myself and now I am starting to wonder if that’s got something to do with my own meditative experiences.

Rebecca Horn, House of Pain, 2005, on show at Tate Modern November 2015

Detail of Rebecca Horn, House of Pain, 2005, on show at Tate Modern November 2015


This is what the plaque says about House of Pain and Waiting for Absence, both 2005 (having read this after seeing the pieces):
‘to look inside bodies and meditate one’s own way into them… you approach a hidden centre, maybe the solar plexus, and follow the circular motion or energy threads of breathing’.


Rebecca Horn, Waiting for Absence, 2005, on show at Tate Modern November 2015

Detail of Rebecca Horn, Waiting for Absence, 2005, on show at Tate Modern November 2015

Detail of Rebecca Horn, Waiting for Absence, 2005, on show at Tate Modern November 2015


There were some other items in the exhibit that were quite scary and intimate. A video of Rebecca in the 70s making a drawing wearing a cage of pencils on her face, a Cockatoo headpiece that had ‘wings’ to envelope/embrace a partner into a kiss (this was really voyeuristic and a bit shocking) and then also, the piece that to me was the most raw and shocking item, a sculpture called Overflowing Blood Machine, 1970. This was bloody and to me, almost torturous looking, perhaps this was what gave such an impact of all the items that perhaps the mechanics had been inspired by medieval creations and inventions.

Rebecca Horn, Overflowing Blood Machine, 1970 at Tate Modern November 2015

Photograph to show Rebecca Horn, Overflowing Blood Machine, 1970 at Tate Modern November 2015
Overflowing Blood Machine was a plinth with transparent tubes that encased a wearer. I thought this looked less like a therapeutic hospital device than one of dystopia and torture or perhaps even unnatural genetic engineering or some other sinister device. The wearer (a performance artist) is ‘tied down on top of a glass container, tubes are wrapped around his body. Blood is slowly pumped from the glass container through the plastic tubes. This garment of veins encases his body, wrapping him in a pulsating skin.’ I think this is the stuff of horror movies, see what you think from the photos!

I'm now looking forward to my next gallery visit, but first some more painting of my own!