Optical Intimacy – Investigations with Pattern | November 2018

During the past year I have become increasingly interested in exploring aspects of pattern making, as a separate exercise to those featured in the majority of my pictures.

Back in my days at the Central School of Art, between 1970 and 1973, a number of my fellow students were working on very large canvases, and producing abstract works [“colour field painting”], featuring minimal shapes and colours. Much of the work was produced using masking tape, and our tutors seemed hugely influenced by what was happening in New York at that time. 1971, as far as I can recall, saw the height of the Abstract Expressionist movement. The most famous was Jackson Pollock, but there were others, and our group at Central was very much encouraged to look at this approach to painting. From a personal perspective, I was drawn to Mark Rothko and a number of others, and was intrigued by the manner in which these artists made certain areas of their pictures ‘move’, whilst some shapes and colours appeared to drift or float. The term “push and pull” had been adopted by the New York group, and was embraced by a number of my class mates.

Some pretty basic study revealed that our eyes are simply extraordinary in the manner in which they try to make order of all they are presented with, and ‘work things out’. I was intrigued by some of the ‘energy’ such shapes and colours could produce, and this aspect of my art school education has been very much rekindled during the past year or two.

The overriding theme of my work is INTIMISM, and the subject has been the female figure, usually positioned in an interior. She is often engaged in some sort of everyday task or activity. Pattern making has been an integral component in these pictures, and introduced as a decorative element to embellish the compositions.

A fundamental to my process of drawing is watercolour paper of a substantial weight. It is robust and durable, and allows me to add and subtract pencil and colour pencil line, as well as apply and delete washes of watercolour paints. There are added dynamics, as I use my erasers [one of which is electric!] as drawing tools as well as for erasing. I also deboss into the surface of the paper using a special tool and hard pencils. The debossing process creates ‘channels’ into which I can add colour pencil line, or stain with paint. The process is transparent, and I am absorbed with the whole idea of layering, with the result that the viewer is able to ‘see into each stage’ that the picture has gone through in its production.

I see the relationship and response that the eye has with the marks and colours on, and also within, the surface of the paper as an abstract INTIMISM. Perhaps, in a sense, this is a purer INTIMISM, as one is not distracted by the figure . . . ? In recent months, I have produced a series of pattern works, and explored relationships between geometric and embellished shapes through a system of grids. I have worked to create movement and depth, which the eyes can pick up on. Some squares might seem to stand out, and then with a shift in focus, things change, and other elements seem to come into play. They may even seem to pulse . . . to ‘flash’.

Colour adds another dimension, and at this stage the palette, is somewhat limited. I began a series back in October 2017, when the Jacaranda trees were in bloom. It seemed a good idea to link the pictures, and so the theme “Jacaranda” was adopted, and the words like: “Blues” “Jazz” and “Jive” added. Recently, I completed two pictures titled “Jacaranda Madderness”. This name is derived from the colour Rose Madder, and madder is used in the making of my selected paint, Alizarin Crimson.

“OPTICAL INTIMACY” is integral to my current journey. I plan to develop this aspect in tandem with the figures, and influences from Japanese artist Kitagawa Utamaro . . .