The canvas is the laboratory/battlefield for exploring the phenomenon of an "event".
It is not there to represent or to show. It is intended to be a place where the "event" can be played out and its specific aspects can be re-enacted, recreated, manifested as an experience. The image, or a choice of what to "depict", comes from observing the surrounding world (the immediate environment, media information, large scale social events) and trying to isolate an occurrence of the specific phenomenon that I am interested in at the time.
The phenomenon I have being particularly interested in, in this set of works is that of thresholds, in particular the events that arise in the threshold area and how they manifest themselves. By "threshold area" I mean space (physical and otherwise) where different elements engage with each other. By the word "event" I mean the specific nature of the reciprocal engagement of those elements - it can be merger, infiltration, repulsion, violent transition of one into another, and the energy produced in such "events". The aim is to capture and reflect/restage, those events on the canvas.
Events I have been interested in are social events as well as specific events in physics and in cosmology. Some of the triggers (seeing at a specific moment something that develops into a working idea) that have spurred me on to developing these works have been: witnessing clashes between social groups in London, and events across the Middle East. In physics I have been fascinated by the property of atoms to maintain the distinction of all matter despite their similitude and by the energy events that define this distinction, in particular what happens on the thresholds within matter, from its smallest constituent parts to manifestations on the grand scale. In cosmology, by the emergence of matter in the universe and the elements that are thought to have played part in the process.
The gestural language of the painting, the application of the paint (a movement of the entire body rather than just the use of a brush) has in some instances tried to mimic such events: flowing brush strokes that simultaneously define and blur the edge of the form have been adopted from Velázquez while throws of colour in Pipes 3 & 4 are influenced by Francis Bacon. Here energy is represented by a gestural expulsion of "energy" onto a canvas.
Entropy is another aspect of the events that I have being interested in. As I see it, it works on, effects, defines, destroys the thresholds (Consumed 1 & 2, Entropy). On a social level a large city such as London was an example. Specifically the overwhelming diversities that erase definition/distinction and render everything homogeneous in its very multiplicity - evenly important and ultimately same.
In Entropy the main object of the picture is to study the tension between this homogeneity of the material flux of daily life and a structured form. The central form is comprised of elements of contemporary corporate architecture. The construction of the form is linear but fractured, which both suggests and questions the image of a structure in space, so that it gravitates towards an homogeneity of its own.
The painting is a reflection on possible tensions between clashing manifestations of differing processes of entropy. One is possibly tending towards the erasure of all distinction, the other towards a crystallised form. I am interested in what happens in the space where these tensions occur, in how these elements compete for the space of the canvas and the visual experience of tension this may create. It is possibly an attempt to visually manifest/effect, the concept of entropy as a social and physical phenomenon through painting.
Entropy, Consumed 1&2 visually reference Vanitas still-lives of the classical period, which contained collections of objects symbolic of the inevitability of death and the transience and vanity of earthly achievements and pleasures. In particular in the way in which Dutch artists represented a bouquet of flowers as a near homogeneous mixture of colours and elements among which were inserted small singular objects such as-insects or a fly representing decay, a butterfly, resurrection, a snail sensual sin, etc. The method of inserting a recognisable element that might trigger mental references has influenced my paintings. But although here nude bodies, skulls, oil pipes, the face of Gaddafi, protesters, are inserted in the multiplicity of matter, they are not there to tell a story. Newspaper cuttings were the main source of these details, as a way to connect with the world and also to create a distance, to record an event that has happened and make it history. They don't tell a story but manifest history as a rhizomatic series of events.
Using industrial landscapes as a source for the images (Pipes 2,3 & 4) is a theme I have started working on as a Fellow and artist in residence at Trinity College Cambridge (2009-2011). I have been looking at the disintegration of industry in Western society, the beauty of industrial landscapes and the way the industrial age has formed our environment, society, its tastes and choices and its aesthetics, as is reflected for instance by the architecture of the Pompidou Centre, the Lloyds building in the City etc., and in countless representation in film and photography, where Industry and Vanitas are closely interlaced. In Pipes 2, 3 & 4 I used photographs and sketches made during my visit to the Zaporizhia Steel factory in Ukraine and the BP Saltend Plant in Britain.
The presence of the Body in Entropy and Consumed 2, follows a complex history: image of perfection for the Greeks, symbol or spiritual vessel for the Byzantines, flesh for Rembrandt or Rubens, and with Bacon and after the second World War flesh as living meat -limbs contorted and torn but living etc. The body at present is an object of possession- a tool that can be upgraded enhanced, a commodity, a consumer item. Therefore in the painting it is mixed and mingled up with the rest of material possessions, becoming part of the homogeneous matter dump that is overwhelming our society. Here too painting attempts to manifest the tension at the threshold.
In Consumed 1 & 2 images are spliced into geometric shapes that are first outlined on the canvas. These shapes are borrowed from scientific data and reference crystalline structures created by ribosomes, curves of mitochondria organelles. Interacting layers or volumes of representational elements relate in such a way that the viewer identifies the elements and yet at the same time perceives them as abstract "movements" of colour and shape.
...I'd like to focus on this painting, to show how all the above mentioned elements, the composition and its parts, in particular representation of body and flesh can be used in more complex manner. How a whole number of problems and questions can be raised in one painting creating a whole number of layers. Here a painting becomes a laboratory for working out the ideas and the links between them.
The starting point for this painting was a witness account of the war in Chechnya during the time I worked as an interpreter in the mental hospital in Traumatic stress services in UK. The imagery that the patient was describing over a period of several months had given a more powerful experience of the imagery that was coming in through the media about the atrocities in Rwanda, wars in Nigeria and Iraq and Afghanistan. The family of the victim was closely connected with the oil industry which subsequently led to extreme torture and extermination of all but one member of this family. This has closely linked to the debate that was going on regarding the validity of the war action in Iraq and its link to oil. One of interesting points in the patients story was that despite the real threat of extermination the family carried on living and working in Chechnya. I was fascinated by this ability of humans to carry on as normal.
One of the questions of this painting is how close the destruction has to come to disrupt our routine. Considering how small and fragile the globe is. It's this ability of our society to disassociate from real danger that became the concern in this painting. And the prototype for the image of this woman with her eyes closed, being fed by the eagle as a representation of power.
That was more or less the starting point how the idea for the painting was formed, or started to form. Going back to the my initial subject of constructing work, I will start again with composition-the distribution of various elements in this work.
Composition was built on two planes geometric and figurative. The Cube or square in ancient Greece and cultures influenced by them, has been associated with earthly power -kings and politicians, while sphere represented dynamic heavenly power. Figure is represented as a fragile line of a curve, balances precariously between the two. as a reflection on our precariousness as a humanity. Those "base shapes" are inhibited with representational imagery selected more intuitively on bases of what fits or doesn't in the context and aesthetics of the work. The image of demonstration in Thailand for ex. thus responded to the dynamism of the sphere. This imagery is subjected further to dislocation and restructuring by a grid imposed on to the entire painting that further restricts and reorders the positioning of the imagery. This method then creates a set of selection rules which are combined with intuition. In Further layer the windows of images of mass graves are sliced in to the imagery of business architecture.
The selection of images, or elements of composition as in previous work is focused on human body. Here the imagery is more explicit representation of death and dead bodies comparing to the previous image. This is developing on what I've already said about the ambiguity of meat and flesh, or the living and dead flesh. The dead bodies here are as a more explicit/extreme representation of perseverance of life its energy as an inherent part of death. This is building further on representation of bodies by Francis Bacon and on the works of Russian Sculptor Ernst Neizvestnij who had first hand experience of fighting in the trenches and was left for dead on the battlefield. In his works death as an extreme form of representing the durability of life something to measure it against.
Much of this work is based on polarity- death, life; square-circle, different modes of production, juxtaposition of economic growth and destruction, This attraction between social groups that merge in to greater units and then collapse. Somewhat like the way Gravity holds galaxies together and makes giant clouds of gas collapse and form stars and planets.
The last element of constructing the painting I would like to bring up is technical execution of work-selection of paints and how to apply them. As I have started to talk of polarity being important element in this painting it is also reflected in the choice of the means of executing the work. The more obvious are the contrast in detailed execution of architecture and more loosely painted areas of the dress and within the circle. In more technical terms, In using the layers of glazes as in 18 century Dutch still-life, juxtaposed with gestural movements of brush learned from copying works by Vasquez or studying Francis Bacon's dubs of paint.
Painting is executed with a very limited number of materials - whites-Zinc, Titanium and Lead white and blacks-Ivory black, and Mars black. Although more colors were used in body of the girl and the "sliced in" images of the dead bodies reference the pink color of the FT newspaper.
All five Titles of the main materials-Zinc, Titanium, Lead, Ivory, Mars, have strong associations in Western European society.
Zinc widely used for household products from deodorants and shampoos, batteries and photocopying, in agriculture, it has been proposed component of nuclear weapons. In a dietary supplement the luck of which in the Third World Countries is responsible for approximately 800,000 children's deaths from zinc deficiency related diseases. In soviet Russia zinc has been firmly associated with the zinc coffins in which 20,000 soldiers, aged 18 to 19 returned from Afghanistan in early 80s. Both Zinc and Titanium and to a lesser extent Led, have been essential materials in contemporary business architecture, military application and computer and communication technology. Ivory have been associated with imperial powers and plundering of the resources of the third world countries. Mars being a god of war.
The work is primarily executed using the natural differences in the quality's of these four pigments. Titanium most brilliant white available to artists. It has twice the opacity of pure lead white which is of a warm slightly yellowish tone. Zinc white has a much colder, cleaner tone than that of lead white or titanium white. Combined with the cooler hue of Mars black it produces blue colors that you see in the background while Ivory black with lead white gives the warm almost a flesh tones.
Vasari, in his "Lives of the Artists" tells an anecdote where Pope Benedict's courtiers asked Giotto to produce a drawing to prove his talents to the Pope back in Rome. Giotto dipped his brush in red ink and produced a perfect circle. Several century's later Malevich proved his genius with a perfect square and years later Richter's and Rothko's monochromatic works still take our breath away.
How do these relate to big Paintings of pipes, bodies and cars on the walls of the UL? All of the above artists have had a strong influence on my methods of practice. So it is some of the methods and influences that I would like to make the subject of my talk today. I start with Giotto since his influence goes much further back to my earlier work. I saw his frescos in the chapel in Assisi and they struck me as having a strong temporal feel to them. The frescoes did not look like a set of separate stills from the life of St Francis, but unfolded and developed as a film-strip. The formal elements that made them so dynamic was the use of pointing gestures, turns of the head and the direction of the folds on the garments, like in this "The betrayal of Christ"from the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. Giotto understood that our attention tends to be directed first and foremost to the faces, hands and areas of intense colour and tonal contrast. The result was that our eyes follow the lines of gestures throughout entire set of the frescos creating an undulating wave of highs and lows like a symphony that unfolds in time. It is this ability of Giotto to make our gaze follow an unfolding set of events within a still image that I have being trying to employ in my works. His other quality I aspire to is the one that the earlier anecdote about Giotto's perfect circle refers to: his very high level of technical skill which allows a master of the trade to execute most difficult tasks with deceptive ease and simplicity. Malevich in contrast has more autobiographical influence for me. When I was 8 my family moved to Saint Petersburg from Ukraine. My father had joined a group of artists who despite Soviet repressions continued developing the ideas of Malevich. Originally the group was lead by Sterligov who was a student of Malevich at Ginhuk. After Sterligov's death his wife established the "Sterligov Group" and his students continued gathering every Wednesday in the studio of each member of the group. Between the tea drinking and tasting of home-made cookies a still-life would be set up and discussion, drawing and painting would be practised. The result would be brought to a group discussion. The atmosphere was cordial and children of all ages were trying their hand at furthering Complementary colour relations of Malevich and Sterligov's ideas of complementary form. In contrast to the straight lines of Suprematism practised by Malevich, Sterligov developed a curving formal relationship which he named "bowl and dome system" of space divisions. Later in my work those formal ideas have come to interlace with those of another artist of the 1930s Pavel Filonov Slide 6 whose works I first saw at The Russian museum in Saint Petersburg.
In Mitochondria both of those influences are rather evident. The densely populated surface of the canvas is divided by complementary curves of colour. The same mechanism of manipulating relations of colder and warmer hues of colour throughout the composition, or the image, serves as the means of creating an illusion of space and depth in the painting as well as helps to create temporal dynamic element. Which I will get back to later on. The third Artist I have mentioned who has had an influence on the overall methodology in these series of works was Richter. Slide I suppose it is his will to push painting further to discover the potential of every area/aspect of painting that I admire the most. He looked at the relations between the photography and painting in the new light, the qualitys of paint as a medium in his large abstract paintings and the concept of paint and colour in his COLOUR CHARTS. It is this method of setting a number of conditions that one could adhere to while executing the work which I have adopted in a number of my works like Mitochondria , Ribosome and Zero One. This thinking method has been present more in music, poetry as well as in film of early and mid 20th century. Other examples artists that followed such process and whose work have influenced me, are Tony Conrad's Slide film Flicker and much of Slide Tim Heads work. My take on this method is most evident in painting 0/1. The conditions here were the division of space combined with the use of unaltered image source, in this case a photograph of a Steel-mill and a tree in Ukraine to bring out a new experience of the imagery and to question the implicitness of beauty in any visual (or other) experience that involves pattern recognition. This questions have developed form the conversations on vision that I have had with Horace Barlow the neuroscientist at Trinity College. Slide 12 Here is the detail... Thus far I have spoken about the main formal concerns in my work: Giotto's sense of temporal movement through the painting, Maleviche's use of complementary colours and the manipulation of the depth of field achieved through the use of warm and cold hue's and Richter's production of the elements within the work by defining a set of conditions. I would now like to focus on each of the exhibited works in turn to highlight those and other aspects that have gone into making each of the pieces. Clockwise in the Hall first and by far not the smallest of the efforts is Pipes N2.The subject has its origin in my earlier idea of producing a set of grand Historical paintings in the footsteps of old masters like Rubens and Velázquez, which would reflect on the current events. The need for such set of works in my view arose form the awareness of living in a historically crucial times and felling a need to continue the tradition of recording those fundamental changes through painting.
The oil industry has come to light as being a focus of many political and social events in our society. This work reflects on some of the thoughts on oil industry. The image was taken in Hull / Saltend BP Refinery on a snowy day in 2010 (by my husband Iain Parker). The cathedral-like grandeur of the refinery had come through strongly in the photograph. However in order to subvert the literal recognition of the detail and bring out the sense of emanating light that draws us in to perspective "high in to heavens" I had to turn the image on its side. Slide This has now created a strong association with the imagery of baroque cathedral, ceiling paintings like: (Ex: Andrea Pozzo's fresco in St Ignazio in Rome) The parallels were to be drawn not only in visual relations but in cultural references that had gone into those paintings. This iconographic plan (Ex:Palazzo Barberini, Pietro da Cortona) shows ceiling to be inhabited by all virtuous beings such as: Divine Providence, Justice, Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance, Moral knowledge, Divine assistance, Immortality , Charity, Faith. Regardless of our familiarity or lack of such with the specific gods inhabiting these baroque paintings, it seems to me that the culture of a large institutions have perpetuated those references into the mass media and mass culture that surrounds us now. A religious advertisement campaign have been adopted to corporate world. Examples are the use of words like Prudence, Providence and Temperance in the names of the companies and Charity, Moral responsibility and Fortitude are a must for any of any large Company's Image In this painting of the interior of St Peters in RomeS (Giovanni Paolo Panini, interior of St Peters in Rome), the viewer is placed inside the grand cathedral in order to give us a sense of scale.
In Pipes N2 and 3 the viewer is outside while the painting itself suggests the scale. The diagonals that Giotto employed to create movement from one end of the image to another are employed here to set our gaze into circular and upward motion. This is achieved through the contrast of light and shadow and the use of colour highlights, setting explicit yellows pinks and greens together in the dynamically strategic places.
Formally the same method of using complementary colours to organise the space is applied in Mitochondria. The shapes of Mitochondria organelles, albeit very stylised forms of them, have been drawn out on the canvas first. This was the initial set of conditions into which the figurative element was to be introduced. Then those shapes were inhibited by figures, bits of rubbish and trivia. The same method of dividing the canvas into a set of geometric shapes drawn from Microbiology was used in Ribosome. Mitochondria focused on the body as a consumer object amidst other consumer items that swamp our lives. It reflected on a progression that the depiction of the body have undergone from middle ages to Renaissance's and baroque through to post WWII artists generation such as Ernst Neizvestnyi and Francis Bacon. The transition is from Spiritual temple to object of beauty to living meat and flesh and the way I see it now, to a gadget that can be modified upgraded and possibly soon enough swapped for a newer model. The Ribosome part of the diptych explored the role of the car in the worldwide consumption of fossil fuel. In particular its use as a weapon in the oil related wars and its role as a substitute for the body in the depiction of horrors of war in the press. Both paintings employ similar methods to structure our exploration of the canvas. A more detailed rich centre slowly dissipates in to lesser organised and looser brushwork and less coloured edges. In these works a rather chaotic mesh of objects and colour is subjected to structure through the geometric compounds but also through colour highlights and contrast points placed to form a classical triangle. The structure as well as painting technique-(colour ground and multiple layers of colour application to create optical mix) is borrowed from Dutch 16 century Vanitas still-life's. This particular still life I had copied in the National gallery in 2009 with the purpose of researching the techniques used by Van Huysum . Often such still lifes would feature a prominent red flower at the top of the composition and a smaller highlights of read would be placed in the centre bottom and on the sides forming a cross. The blue iris often would go in the top right and the gold would follow on from the red structures constantly keeping our eyes scanning the painting from one bright highlight to the other. Given the scale of the painting this would introduce temporal element not dissimilar to Giotto's undulating gaze line. However I felt that the tight composition of these canvases did not provided the satisfactory means to reflect on ever increasing disjointedness of events both in politics, policies and social interactions that have often characterised recent events.
In Pipes N 3and 4 the impetus for the working idea came from two sources In physics I have been fascinated by the property of atoms to maintain the distinction and diversity of all matter despite their similitude and vast amounts of void.
Also by the energy events that define this distinction of matter, in particular what happens on the thresholds of matter forms, from its smallest constituent parts to manifestations on the greatest scale. In cosmology, I have been fascinated by the emergence of matter in the universe and by the elements that are thought to have played their part in the process. Here the focus is on what I call 'events' that arise in the 'threshold area' or an area where different elements of different nature and scale engage with each other. For example the tension and fluidity on the borders of form.
In fact hose events could be any reciprocal engagement of elements- merger, infiltration, repulsion, violent transition of one into another. While working on these paintings I was interested in the energy produced in such 'events' and in attempting to capture and reflect/restage those events on the canvas. The gestural language of the painting, the application of the paint has in some instances tried to mimic such events. For instance, the flowing brushstrokes that simultaneously define and blur the edge of the form. In part this blurring techniques have been adopted from Velázquez, while throws of colour are influenced by Francis Bacon. In these paintings, energy is represented by a gestural expulsion of 'energy' onto a canvas, a literal physical act of putting intense but controlled physical force in to paint application. Besides the physics and cosmology my interest in thresholds came from the social events. Some of the 'triggers' - a specific moment of seeing something that develops into a working idea have been images of clashes between social groups in London and around the world.
Painting Entropy has developed from similar sources of thoughts as the earlier works but it has moved away from the tight brushwork and literal description of Mitochondria and Ribosome.Here the binary division of values or an attempt to find distinction between good and bad, gives way to exploring the complexity of multi layered relations allowing for multiple aspects of life to fill the "field of vision".
"Entropy" cites the property's of matter according to the second law of thermodynamics which postulates that Entropy always increases. Here the material flux is made more illegible. Recognisable snippets of imagery, familiar references like a face of Gadaffi in the right bottom corner, plastic chair, body, upside-down scull Slide (reference to the sculls at the base of the crucifixion in old master paintings), all are taken out of context. This creates tension between continuous attempts to make sense of the image which can never be fully satisfied and a desire to dismiss it as an amorphous /abstract form. The mind keeps coming back to those familiar references but each new level of reading or an attempt to organise information i.e. create order, soon disintegrates in to chaos.
The idea came partly from walking the streets of London where our mind is bombarded with fragments/shards of visual information, cut twisted and disjointed such as reflections in a glass vitrine, photographs of smiling and distraught faces in bits of adverts, newspapers, fragments of conversations, warning signs, video adverts all demanding that our brain makes sense of it against all odds.
The painting also can be seen as form of Vanitas still life like Mitochondria and Ribosome where material flux is a reminder of transience of all things earthly. Consciously or not the warm and cold smudges of colour are also the precipitates of the lost lives that build up a background to our daily existence. A memory of images from September 11, Afganistan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Indonesia, The Balcans, Georgia thousands lives lost in action and many more lives destroyd in process. A staggering 2700 Us Soldiers who have commited suicides and never made in to the 2000 statistic of lost in action. Add to that deaths and devastation brought on by natural disasters in Haiti and Japan and one's life seems over-saturated by background of states of complete disintegration and annihilation that filters into everything.
If information is a form of organisation in a painting as it is in our society, it has also being a carrier of disintegration of order, cohesion and large parts of culture. With 24 hour access to the news and information this precipitation seems constant. By the same analogy, painting is a way of creating order out of chaos of paint particles.
By engaging in the painting process one is partaking in the constant flux of entropy. To end on a more hopeful note I would like to quote Richter's saying on painting values "And that's why believe that here on this planet, despite all our most horrifying strayings, we are in principle on the right path. Sometimes .... even the present has its moments of promise..."