A few years ago there was an advert on TV by Volvo. It showed a car speeding over a glacial expanse against a spectacular mountainous backdrop. The voiceover explained that most car companies are quick to tell you how fast their car is at getting from 0- 60 mph. At Volvo - the voiceover continues - we think it's more important to say how quickly it can get from sixty to nought. (At this point the car turns and breaks fiercely, stopping on a sixpence on the icy expanse). Extolling the virtues of safety and reinforcing the reputation of Volvo as a safe family car in a sporting, dramatic context.
I have been asked from time to time (by all sorts of people) "how do you start a painting?". As an abstract painter this question gets asked for a whole range of reasons. Do you wait for "inspiration?" is the favourite one. Considering this point (not always posed by a layman) I concluded the true painter can be picked out if they are more interested in how they stop. For when one stops a painting - especially an abstract one - an artist is drawing a line in the sand and is saying, this has moved from making to made. The decision to stop throws up a whole area of intrigue and theory fodder in equal measures. What is going on in each individual when they make that concluding decision… Done?
Painters can return to paintings over time - some even make their practice out of this approach. New experiences and a fresh eye can say to an artist the making needs to start again, it wasn't made. But what is making that artist feel that?
We set up formats, have strategies and even play mind games to get underway. Everyone has their own approach and the journey begins, Day in and day out, a million journeys are beginning in studios, desktops, sketchbooks, walls and backs of envelopes. This journey is a revelatory one; you can start at the left and get to the right and stop or keep putting things on top of previous layers, you can scrape, score, scour even, scratch, daub, stain, scumble or pour. You can place, stick, remove, reapply, paint over, paint out. and on and on. I say to pupils and students when they are looking uncertain about where they are on this journey of their's , yet certain that they are still travelling on it.. " If it looks good, make it better, if it looks bad , make it worse" , you'll find yourself in the same place more often than not - at the end of your journey. Your work has been 'made' . Making in painting has a fantastic range of plasticity. It never ceases to surprise. In dealing with this plasticity, the physicality of making is one of the more satisfying experiences of art, It can make you nervous, neurotic even, yet it is more than an addiction. I believe it is a sensory compulsion. Goya was seen at the end of his life wandering the streets, tinnitus ringing in his ears, daubing earth on walls… "Nada" he muttered.. "nada", nothing is left, yet everything was still there. The compulsion to make is in our human DNA. Our opposing thumbs give us the mechanical facility that means we can become answerable to this compulsion. If we can't use our hands, our feet , our mouths even will do. Paraplegics will make art and bloody good luck to them too. They are the more extreme manifestation of what we all share, the collective will to work - to work. Yes , work - Painting is work, hard work actually. Work is a great word. Working something out, working at your art. For all the definitions of work, the one I like the most is the one reserved for Physics - "the exertion of force overcoming resistance or producing molecular change." The last part seems a little drastic but you get the point - the mechanical overcoming of resistance - I feel this one is painting. Colour is reflected light, the richest of fabrics in our known universe. Painting lets me feel the turning of the universe, its forces, the very mechanics of it all. Look and you can hear it…. Look. Looking is when we begin to decide when to stop, when we decide these forces have been overcome.
This "looking" - sometimes overt, sometimes covert, yet always there, runs parallel, tangentially or even elliptically to the making ; this looking and the consequent decision making that comes with looking is when we knowingly or unknowingly start to speak in the language of Art. We move into view of an unspoken force and have that glimmering maybe even unsettling feeling that somebody else is watching us "make". We are in the presence of the God of Art and the God of Art is a "Looking God". We must provide our humble offerings to the Looking God who then passes judgement - usually unmercifully, on them... Done?…more….done?….more…..done?…. DONE. Relief.
I watched one of my children draw the other day with a dry wipe pen on a small white board. The pen twitched and barely caressed the surface at times, yet the marks flowed with a hypnotic quality. Deft lines, arcs, loops and sprawling gestures began to cover the board. I was watching the making and I was waiting for the God of Looking to appear - For this God is not only known to artists - that would be far too exclusive. Drawing is visual breath. Then came the pause, that split second glance to the God of Looking - the offering. Done?……. Done.