My work is probably best described as abstract painting. Sometimes people like to use the term ‘non-objective’, which is okay, in that it’s true the work doesn’t reproduce objects you see in the world, but I reckon that terminology is a negative way to describe work which represents, or evokes, abstract ideas that are difficult to put into words. In my work, the ideas develop directly out of the materials and processes I’m playing with. I don’t really think of it as ‘reductive’, because this implies that you take an image of something in the world and then remove the complexity – reduce it to its basic forms. My process is more ‘constructive’. I look at something like paint or canvas or tape, or a process like stapling or hanging and, as I explore its properties, something develops.
Although they can appear quite sculptural, most of my artworks are made with the picture plane and other aspects of painting usually in mind.
I see the work as concrete and conceptual, both with a small ‘c’. As much as you work with paint and canvas or colour and light, these have properties that suggest or dictate certain processes. By the rules that form around them, these can act as a kind of a grammar for human experience. The stuff of painting – placement, support, ground, surface, illusion, history – are all able to evoke the dialectical nature of existence: absence and presence, coming and going, open and closed, concealed and revealed and so on. In effect, even when you’re making “painting about painting” you also produce art about life.
Sometimes individual works will belong with others even as they stand alone. Just as people identify as individuals and as members of a group at the same time, so my works can present in series, compounded, repeated and reiterated.
The Planes, for instance, a series of discrete paintings on gallery walls, turns out by a shift in perspective also to describe overlapping planes stretching out in an expanded pictorial space. Niceties, from Red Tape Amnesty, was later re-made as a new independent work, Documentation, which, as the name suggests, documented its own previous iteration.
My titles shouldn’t be taken religiously. Sometimes they might provide a clue as to what the work is ‘about’, but often they will declare the elephant in the room – my hanging tapes aren’t meant to remind you of flystrips, for instance, but I’m happy to admit the resemblance. Some of my best memories involve the old fish-n-chips shop.
Mostly I work with an aesthetic hunch, rather than a particular intention or theme, and it may not be until after I’ve played around with a process – sometimes not until an exhibition is up – that it fully reveals what it’s ‘about’.
There is often an element of humour in the work, which shouldn’t be taken lightly – taking the piss is a response just like any other, and more direct than discursive pontification. Seriousness shouldn’t be taken too heavily either.
I might suggest the sorts of things you might see in what I’m doing, but I have to be careful not to expect you will actually see them – or I’ll go mad. While I have intentions for the work, these are more to do with the design of the thing. I’m curious as to how it will turn out, in the world. I don’t set out to elicit responses, so your response is between you and the work. I subscribe to the idea of the intentional fallacy: the fact that the artist intended it to be in the work doesn’t necessarily put it there. If I tell you what I intended, though, and you then see it in the work, then I’ve created a language for the work to speak. As much as possible, I try to create work that speaks directly, but art doesn’t really work that way – we are literate beings and we will always see to interpret. At the same time, if it’s not there in the work, it’s not there. So your response to the work is as valid as my intention – as long as you don’t confuse the art in front of you with the what’s in my head. Anyway, it’s your response you have to live with. I like art that keeps giving over time, and I aim to produce the same, despite my inclination toward the one-liner.
If I install a motor in something, it’s pretty clear that the motor is supposed to run, to turn the object or whatever. I can suggest to you that I’m creating a scrolling picture plane, but if you see individual tapes moving in space then that’s what you see. It’s not the idea I had in mind, but it is still what the work is doing. I may or may not be okay with it, but that’s a social issue, not an aesthetic one. If you really think you know better, you can ignore the motor altogether, and leave it turned off. Then you’ll see a different work. That’s okay too. It’s just a different work – one you have had a hand in making. I might take the same work myself and direct a fan onto it. That’s another separate work. Or a child might immerse herself in it, or a passer-by might unconsciously run his hand along the tapes. This one work, that I had the one intention for, turns out to be composed of all these different works. When I speak of ‘concurrency’, this is the sort of thing I mean. If my intention is to be open to all of these works, then while I haven’t necessarily created them, they are still part of the work. Again, the issue of originality is quite separate. The idea of the entirely singular work is an illusion; a convention. Its independence is contingent. At the very least, independence is always dependent on something to be independent of.
So, my work may be decorative, and I love that it brings pleasure, but it is political too. What I’m saying is not very new. Indeed, it is as old as philosophy. Not that there’s anything wrong with black or white, but when I see black spy having it out with white spy, I see the colour drained from the world.