05.08.16 --- 26.08.16
Oil on canvas
Oil on canvas
Machete, Lilies & Golden Salamanders
Acrylic, modelling paste on canvas
James Collins with Chris Shaw
CS: A year ago, for your first Three Works show, oil paint that had been dripped and scraped on an exposed linen support was your overriding aesthetic. There was talk of algorithms as an aid to the painting process in the accompanying Q&A. With a little distance, what do you feel today about the work you were doing then?
JC: It's good reflecting on that body of work. There are still things in that way of working that I feel I could pick up at some point, just not at this minute. There's something about that process being so contrived in its technique, which feels like the opposite of where I'm at now. I was reading a book on algorithms at the time when making those paintings and with hindsight maybe the paintings don't have as much of a connection to algorithms as I thought they did - painting with systems would be a better description for what I was doing then.
CS: Your current work appears to have changed somewhat. Crisscrossing lines trace paths across the surface of your canvasses creating rich, yet broken, tapestries of colour. In a recent conversation we had, you mentioned the painter Ken Kiff and something he said about form being the problem of colour and colour the problem of form. Looking at your recent work, you do seem to be cracking this problem, don't you?
JC: With these recent ones I've been thinking about the way that colour and form can resolve the other so to speak. Even if the object/figure doesn't bare much relation to the rest of the goings-on on the canvas, maybe the colour and the manner it's painted carries it over the line. I think Kandinsky's horse paintings from around 1908 have stuck with me and some of the colour 'noise' (if thats the right word for it) in Kiff's paintings are like backing vocals for the different types of figuration to ping off one another.
CS: Town Cryer, a recent painting you exhibited at Slate Projects, appears entirely abstract but subsequent work contains figurative elements. The forms are ambiguous, often animal-like, and as images they never quite fully resolve into being one thing or another. More recently, you've started to paint recognisable elements - much more linear and graphic: words, logos, arrows. What's happening?
JC: I think doing a Masters has opened up my practice significantly, it's hard to say exactly what's happening with some of the parts of it. I feel like I work in a chain reaction to stuff happening in any given painting. I feel like I only really start painting when I've got a lot of stuff down. So if a part looks like it might be best utilized as a snake for example then I go with that. If the way I've painted it causes an imbalance of composition/form/colour/tone etc., then I look to deal with or look to ways or resolving that bit next. I end up feeling like I'm juggling when I'm painting, but I think it's a rewarding feeling knowing that it could all fall apart or be brought back to life with a few decisive moves. The Three Works painting started off as a mouse trap, but it was really terrible and gradually got painted over bit by bit and that's why the trap and the arrow is there. When I worked the rest of it out those parts seemed quite important, so I kept them.
CS: When you say you only really start painting when you've got "a lot of stuff down", do you mean you get the bare bones of a composition down in something like pencil first?
JC: It's a hard one to explain, it's probably to do with my own definitions of what I expect from my paintings, at the minute it wouldn't feel right to have lots of unworked space on the canvas. I like to go into a painting with an idea of what it should be like and I try to execute it, but then I'm happier with my works when I've removed all of the initial prerequisites and I'm left with something which feels removed from something I planned. I get more out of that way of working, rather than working out a sketch which translates onto a canvas. I have issues with that way of working at the minute because it excludes finding stuff out with the medium. I think that's where the gold is.
CS: You've done quite a bit of travelling in the last year. Do you think that has had some impact on your work?
JC: Yeah I think so. I've seen a lot of paintings that I've only ever seen on a screen and seeing some of those in the flesh has really changed the way I see them. Seeing the Sanya Kantarovsky show at Tanya Leighton in Berlin was useful to see. I figured they'd be really thin paintings but they were actually really worked into and sketched over in the final stages. It gave me a bit of faith in that dogged way of working.
CS: This show is the first group show we've done at Three Works. I asked you to organise this one. Why did you choose Victor and Deme to show alongside you and how do you feel about the show now it's up?
JC: They're just immensely talented people I think. They don't stop either and are some of the hardest workers you'll find. I feel like they understand the motions of their practices. Victor has so much discipline and perseverance. He understands his practice really well and keeps experimenting and finding new ways of adding to it. Deme normally makes 2/3/4 brilliant paintings on one canvas. I'll walk past and see one that looks about finished, come back an hour later and it's totally changed. The next day it'll be something totally different but still be of the same level. Both ways of working are really admirable because it comes from a totally genuine position I feel. They let their interests play out and it's awesome to see. I think the show looks brilliant. It's good to see them together.
CS: Do you know any good books, articles or essays on painting or painters that you can recommend?
JC: Maria Lassnig at Tate Liverpool. I never got the buzz about her work until I saw them in person - really worth a visit!
CS: Who would you say you are influenced by at present?
JC: Ken Kiff, Tal R, Cosima Von Bonin, Ansel Krut, Mary Heilmann are artists that I'm thinking about at the minute.
Deme Georghiou with Chris Shaw
CS: A sense of infinity is achieved in your painting Paternoster when all the thickly painted lines that make up its composition converge to hypnotic effect. Ciphers hover enigmatically in beams of pigment slowing down the rate in which we are drawn into the work. One pinned-down element the painting does contain is its own title: 'Paternoster'. The word runs down each side of the painting almost as if signposting its content. What does 'Paternoster' mean?
DG: I was actually thinking about when you get hit in the face really hard, and you get those bright white circles that appear, and your vision just goes berserk. At the same time I was thinking about what an album cover would look like if me and my dad formed a band together and released our first record. I think this is how sticking 'Paternoster' down the sides came about. So in that sense the first thing Paternoster means is the name of our band, but my initial understanding of the word is a type of fishing rig used for catching Pike. The rig involves hooking a live fish as bait, and anchoring it to the bottom of the lake/river bed, but the fish is given a certain allowance of line which forces the fish to swim around in circles before the predatory fish attack. It is also a type of elevator, which operates in a similar way to a carousel, it travels from floor to floor in a constant motion and you hop on and hop off at the floor you wish to be at. The other use of the word is the title of a Christian prayer which is maybe the most known use of the word - however, it is used as 'Pater Noster' in that sense.
CS: In terms of imagery, Paternoster often scrambles in my mind and it leaves me thinking of Francis Bacon's Screaming Pope as it might appear travelling at the speed of light. What do you think about the (potentially irrelevant) things people say about your work once you put it out in the world?
DG: I guess that can often occur, particularly with work that doesn't have an immediate or obvious reference point. (I must admit I haven't thought about Francis Bacon of recent, but I do think about travelling through time or space a lot, so it's not entirely irrelevant). I think that different readings are inevitable. I suppose some readings you'll agree with and others you won't, but the last thing I want to do is to illustrate an idea or be prescriptive so that the work becomes completely one-dimensional. I think it's important for me to allow some space.
CS: I'm in awe of your crusty oils. I just can't get that with Dulux but then I can't bear the mess oils make. Can you tell me about the materials you like to use: canvas, brushes etc.?
DG: I actually have a very limited brush selection, and I just tend to use 9 or 10oz cotton. I'm really not too snobby about that side of things, I know people can get pretty hung up on using the most expensive paint and getting really into different linens and priming techniques etc. But the paintings as you say get so crusty, it would seem pretty daft to worry about using a certain brand or certain brushes. I just kind of use whatever I can get my hands on really. I am particularly into spectra gel though which is a sort of medium that helps oil paint retain its body.
CS: How do you go about making a painting? Do you have particular methods, routines and rituals that you employ on every work?
DG: I think different paintings require different methods, but I don't have a certain thing that I necessarily rely on. I get pretty despondent if something becomes too much of a routine. I don't want the paintings to be purely about a process and to look tricksy or gimmicky. Having said that, I seem to always prefer a painting to be heavily worked. I sort of believe in them a little more I think. I want the paintings to look like they arrived on the side of a meteor or were discovered in the centre of a 5000-year-old tree - so they need to look a little on the well-worn side.
CS: Talking to you at the PV, I got a sense that making and thinking about art for you is an essential activity, but one that often leaves you with a sense of doubt and uncertainty. What does making these objects mean to you and why do you do it?
DG: I'm not too sure why I make the things I make to be honest. It's just something I do I guess. I do get pretty attached to certain things. They tend to be the smaller things I make, and usually not things that anyone else seems too interested in. I think the working process goes in cycles, sometimes the making leads the way and then sometimes the thinking leads the way. I definitely want both to be evident in the work once something is complete.
Uncertainty is a funny one, I think it might be a very British trait. I think it can often be looked upon as a negative, but I think it can be a real driving force actually. The paintings I like the most are the ones that I've really lost myself in. I know that sounds a pretty obvious thing to say, but when something is made in a complete state of panic and out of sheer desperation and when absolutely nothing else in the world matters other than trying to make the red background a little greener, I think something pretty powerful can occur.
CS: With regard to influences - do you know any good books, articles or essays on painting or painters that you can recommend?
DG: On my desk I currently have a John Walker book, well two actually - one about his paintings throughout the eighties and one of his prints. They are resting on top of an Alfred Jensen book that a friend gave me, and then beside the kettle is the Bruce Lacey catalogue for his Camden Arts Centre show in 2012. I've also got an El Greco book and The Southern Border Terrier Club Year Book 2016 on the shelf just above.
Victor Payares with Chris Shaw
CS: During the PV at Three Works, I was present when a couple of people mentioned how your painting had a flavour of the equatorial countries about it. Do you think this is to do with the scorched earth tones in the piece?
VP: That is rather accurate Chris. I frequently refer to the attitude that makes up the paintings as the ‘flavour of things’. I would say that spending my childhood on an island governed by its scorched climate (aside from socialism, which can be also be thought of as red and arid) must have had an effect on my choice of colour.
CS: Can you identify the major themes in your work or perhaps talk a bit about the title of your work: Machete, Lilies & Golden Salamanders?
VP: The painting in the show is part of a series that is based on a set of Art Nouveau modular windows that made up a great part of the architecture in the house I grew up in. It is a kind of work that is based on treating memory as material, and becoming those memories through the paintings if that makes any sense. The title of the painting is an ode to the elements that make up Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s fictional city Macondo from his famous novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. This tropical metropolis shares the same climate as Havana where I grew up.
CS: You told me you've lived in a number of different places including Havana, Miami, New York and now London. Do you think people change much from place to place?
VP: And also Sweden! I think people change so much as a result of their surroundings, yes. Being in Scandinavia for almost two years really changed my political views.
CS: What struck me about you when we met, Victor, is how creativity is not confined to your canvasses. I noticed a real sense of experimentation and attention to detail with regard to your clothes - a sort of subtle interfering with quite ordinary garments: the removal of a pocket, the addition of yellow dye. It suggests to me a real hands-on, collage, cut-it-up sort of approach to creativity.
VP: Basically, I’m interested in a type of altered trompe l'oeil sensation I want to translate onto the canvas and a similar ethos informs my garments as well. Creativity for me is so ambulant; I tend to pick up stuff on the street that inspires me at first sight. Such things can vary from cables, plastic fragments, fake jewellery and other disregarded items… to woven clothing labels. I am keen on giving these things unconventional meaning and context.
CS: Your painterly processes appear to be quite laborious with a lot of time spent on each work. How much of what you do is preplanned and how much is down to being in the moment?
VP: Mostly, all decisions are calculated and considered but this collides with keeping chance imminent. I really appreciate this cause given that it perpetuates problem solving.
CS: Can you give an example of how this approach was put into practice on Machete, Lillies & Golden Salamanders?
VP: Machete, Lillies & Golden Salamanders was the first painting I started trying out modeling paste and this led to texture and other relief information on the surface. If I hadn't gone down this particular route and tried to create a wall effect on the canvas I would not have come across what started happening after.
CS: Can you tell me a bit about your methods, materials and how you go about making a painting?
VP: I prefer 12oz canvas and I prepare that with three layers of gesso (no sanding). Some sort of underpainting is usually improvised and then comes the tape-tearing to create some of the effects you see. In this way I gradually build up a composition. It is all very systematic and kind of disciplined. There is a set recipe but the outcome is always different.
CS: How do you think your time in London attending the Royal College of Art has impacted on your work?
VP: For me it’s an experience that can only be appreciated in retrospect. Being in a partnership with my colleagues and tutors has encouraged me enormously - I would not have taken half the risks I have taken elsewhere.
CS: Do you know any good books, articles or essays on painting or painters that you can recommend?
VP: I recommend Graham Harman’s Art Without Relations and Manuel De Landa’s A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History. Although not about painting as such both texts are good for reconstructing the way we think of pigment.
CS: Who are your major influences?
VP: My major influences are my family and friends.
CS: If I asked you to answer the same question with regard to painting, would the answer be the same?
VP: I think so because my paintings are generally based on memories.