"That Grinning Skull"; a text on artistic endeavours

In a pit in a pocket of the world was where it started.

Becoming a master, whatever that means.
It began by emptying an old shed. A 17 year old shed its adolescence had been calm, nothing out of the ordinary unworried and untroubled.
Prior to its transformation or perhaps operation it had eaten nutritiously as sheds do.
Our toys, our grandfather’s memorabilia from our old Texaco garage in Ranalegh. That was once my father’s home, silent emotions exchanged between the hum of petrol pumps, but it was never my home, it’s difficult to set the parameters of a place called home, where a thing begins and ends.

Cricket magazines, garden furniture, weights for building muscles, bravado induced by defying gravitational torque were all in this shed. A great big map of Dublin rolled up and stacks of my old paintings. Self portraits, abstractions, frames given to me by dead people, a frame given to me that once housed a painting by Martin Cahils brother. I had once placed a blind drawing of a face with the title “God Face” inscribed below it, into that frame.
Most Artists at one point in their lives believe that art has theological principles.
My friend who gave those frames to me was found dead in his house, he died from a heart attack, alone in his bed.
In his house full of paintings of Venetian scenes, nature mortes, even a Graham Knuttel cat picture in the bathroom, beside the toilet bowl to the right on the ground, not on the tiles but on the raised area.

Artists studio with suitcase : Photographic print 12"x 24", 2015

Artists studio with suitcase: Photographic print 12"x 24", 2015

I had painted reproductions of Ingres paintings and work mans boots all over that bathroom and a series of hands all over the roof reaching towards the light bulb.
It was actually quiet bizarre really.
It was in an affluent area of Ballsbridge in Dublin and the Ingres reproduction was drawn well but painted in the shittiest brown colour, almost smeared. The remaining colours were loveable bright primaries and secondary’s, constructing luminosity in tandem, offering another source of light.

He had no concept of time either and we used to smoke together while his driver waited patiently outside and talk about art and relationships, never relationships in art, but that was then and this is now.
Knock off pound shop reproductions of Audrey Hepburn hung beside magnificent tapestries, high and low side by side.

He used to tell me about his neighbours who would drink all night and sleep all day, and they were the ones considered unusual locally because of this, he thought they were a hoot, mad, good company. I went through a period of wondering had they murdered him soon after his death.
Weird world. Maybe they thought I did………. sometimes I thought I did.

Before he died he had wanted a specific painting from me. It was a stage in my practice when I had moved from literal figuration. I described the work at this time as follows:

In “Paired back as Instructed”  in its absence the negative form is “egg” shaped, maybe to do with the birth of an idea, an idea of nothingness that somehow might offer an idea of everything and anything.
The stuck on sculptural paint at the bottom like a beard that you might stroke when in deep thought. ( I have a beard in my physical appearance) This might make you think of the figurative, the beginning of an idea/the death of an idea, the death of painting, or its hierarchy but also the possibility of painter and painting all combined into its oneness, self referential and at the same time absolutely reflexive. This is kind of what I am talking about in relation to obliterating the figure but having them he/she there poetically, or as poetically as I can achieve right now. I want to try and push things forward in relation to everything, looking and thinking, thinking and being, being and locating in either/or both the specific and the universal.

The shed also housed a series of paintings that operated like a set of mind control techniques described by an English tea merchant named James Tilly Matthews from the 1800’s the first recorded case of schizophrenia.
Post modernism has been termed under that heading. Schizophrenic.
I used to think that was a bad thing, schizophrenic thinking. I suppose it felt too referential to the 21st century, too throw away, information overload, quality was an older thing, That Golden Age. Some kind of golden age of picture making. A Golden fleece.
Sometimes I wonder was the golden age Giotto or Titian and rarely feel close to Mattise, abstraction that is not in a state of becoming.
Those magnificent dancers take place off stage, elsewhere before that actual masterpiece.

Preparation, execution, action and time are usually very apparent in painting.
The majority of today’s abstract painting references a lot of either “becoming” or “reconciliation” between ideas, these are popular right now.
That’s the epic,… reconciliation, reconciliation of ideas is positivism and positivism is a finality. Factory time.
Contending with time, everyday life, the handmade, retinal experience, and challenging the viewers concentration is futile. Vulnerability also apprehends itself as futile.

Cyclicality feels like the greater possibility of truth in our age, take the paintings of Tomma Abts, all the paintings labour, the studio labour is all visible in the four corners. The last instances of visibility on the encounter of the artists paintings are the first instances in which the painting was made, in proximity we are closer to the under painting, the old raised dried over painted composition that extends towards us in space. A Philosophy of action, a read outcome and ethos on the canvas.
The golden age reflecting various boundaries of culture and ethics of epochs untouched by modern times and modern problems. Greenberg wished he could write about the old masters but had to write about Kenneth Noland and Clyfford Still instead. I used to think knowing about modernism would make me a great painter.
That’s where the key was in painting, somewhere in what Greenberg spouted on about. The Greenbergian story of modernist painting and its goal of flatness (which it shared with writing), that, and medium specificity.

At one stage I remarked to my painting tutor that “I was interested in making intelligent paintings!”
He responded by asking me “what that meant?!”
That was the stage of reconciliation in my practice.
I believed it was Paintings that referenced and reconciled with its histories but in some way pushed the envelope.
The way in which artists like Christopher Wool channels Warhol and Pollock, that is considered the new epic in painting. Epic in relation to large corporate spaces where large paintings exist, in a world where performance and bravado are valued over the support structures, lived decisions, possibilities and mistakes that existed adjacent to and encourage and support the final event or conclusion in both art and life, the latter are hidden away where they “know their place”.
There is no room for vulnerability anymore. Outside the notion of spectacle, It can be beguiling to encounter a painting that emanates intimacy or charm. What may be termed a a bedroom painting, something experienced in a private moment of revere, where the subjective comes into play, or the uncanny. Hanging in a places that have the potential to reveal as much about the owner as it may the artist.

Fluidity to futility, I would do well to remember that “value” always exists elsewhere, never in the object itself.

It is in painting where the subjective and the objective play out, the finite and the infinite run simultaneously in painting, intention versus interpretation.
I put my statement on “intelligent paintings” down to what was required from an education system, start to finish a linear point “A” to point “B” as an immature defence strategy in relation to Positivism, the value of labour in a neo liberal capitalist society.
But that same society had me working from a shed.
It was cold here too, the oil heater would burn beautifully but there were many holes in this old shed. I would regularly reach for that Fleece, It hung on a crooked hook on the right hand side of the door, my exit and entry point to a space where I mastered lifetimes into shifts and attributed anthropomorphism and animism with the experience of the handmade, the imagination and a philosophy of actions into circumstances and events between four corners.

Have you heard of Semio-Capitalism? That’s the darker one, the one that goes after your soul. That’s the one that James Tilly Matthews, that tea merchant I spoke of earlier was really talking about.
The capitalism that wants a piece of me, my life’s labour. “They” do it by buying your work, buying a piece of artwork by an artist is close enough to buying a piece of that artist, their virtue.
Stylistic market value. I would prefer to reinvent myself. That seems closer to true abstraction.
I am not interested in style per se. Nor a specific motif……. it was Richter that said it is motivation that is more important. That the Motif is reactionary, almost as stupid as the meaning of life. Perhaps the schizophrenic really is more in tune with our age, the loss of the centre, the passing by of epochs characterized by no specific period style was the story of the 20th century, Style as a travesty of conformation.
I think here of the works of Paul Klee or Sylvia Plath.

I close my eyes sometimes in my shed and pretend I am not an artist. I am other, I am spectacular, then I am poor, I am poor and spectacular, I am a man that sells boats and ships made from ship wood and shedwood. I am a fool that serenades the king and I am a woman who sings a score as she cleans the dirt from her nails
I am dead and I have conjured many spells and I am a painted dragon breathing new life to a scorched earth. Then I paint.
That is how I gather momentum. Attributing certain principles and circumstances to a painting, impoverished or corrupted formalism, peasantry, sorcery, literature or theatre, abstract portraiture.
An intuitive response to a situation at hand, improvisation in creating syntax’s and structures and formulating poetic links to those who are willing to contemplate beyond the verbal.
I made an assemblage not that long ago and as a critique of judgement I created a corresponding painting, “Picture Beast”, a Dionysian conversion to an Apollonian process to measure inaccuracies between theory and intuition and to impose a new space of plausibility’s for seeing in a viewer.

The journey to the piece is the interesting part outlined below.
I had made an assemblage last semester for my end of years show. It was titled “The Old Man and the Sea” based around Ernest Hemingway’s book.

The assemblage was a mix of textiles used frames oil paint etc. it was about navigation. When I started to make “Picture beast” I wanted to paint the printed pattern that I had allowed dominate the previous assemblage.

I painted both the pattern, and a frame around it within the painting.
Abstraction being its main subject at that moment, then I added three smaller paintings to the right hand side of the abstract painting. For the subject matter of these smaller images I made small impressions of Turners.

I hung the four painted paintings on an imagined wall within the painting and placed some parallel coloured wallpaper behind them. The wallpaper would not match with the current paintings palette in this imagined domestic setting and the original abstraction had become decorative in its patterned form, being the predominant painting out of the four images within the canvas the painting began to assume its position as a critique on taste. I felt I was losing the painting. That my original references to the literature and the assemblage were no longer solid at this point, a failure.

Intuition is an important part of making work and “Picture Beast” is a good example of how a painting that is about painting takes on its own role or own nature in relation to what was firstly expected of the painting from the painter and through this again references back to the book “The Old Man and the Sea.

When the fisherman chases the Marlin his expectations of what might be/what he wants/ and what he is left with are all very different. The nature of the beast changes.

So there is an irony involved in the process. I lost the painting but I stayed with it. I did not waver. I thought I lost the reference points to the previous assemblage and the book again previous to that.
But what happened was that I came full circle I went through all the processes that the fisherman went through but held steady. And in the end allowed the thing, in this case, the painting “Picture Beast” to be what it is and respect it for that.

It’s a painting about being human

Irregular rhythms. Much like the death knell of a bad heart play many parts in artistic endeavours.
Discrepancies, systematic inconsistencies to be at odds with your own intentions. Whether it be a gestic command in a mode of theatricality.
The “trying on” or the “travesty”.
The god of excess and indulgence Dionysus was raised a girl as a cloak of deception and we hear Apollo cry both “nothing in access” and “Know Thyself”. This either/or
The sign and signifier, a commitment to paintings languages, the ritual of wearing that Golden Fleece in a cold shed. With the door nailed shut from the inside out with an old stretcher bar, the theological views that an artist may once believed convert themselves now to epistemological understandings.
We remember the dead in a different way.  
We recognize the interchange-ability, where paintings histories are not absent but never truly present and we play across it. A trans-modernity, an-other alternative dance that drags itself across instead of through different epochs with old bodies in toe, antagonising the cannon.
Presented on a stage, in moments of becoming and falling, failing and tripping, exercising the power of the imagination, the necessity of contemplation, human virtue and time in front of That Grinning Skull.