Action points: Some suggestion of artists working within the realms of abstract landscape –
Simon Carter https://www.simoncarterpaintings.co.uk/
Also look at Clare Woods, Michele Fletcher and Maxine Davidowitz
And have a look at Vivian Suter’s approach to materials and processes – https://archive.camdenartscentre.org/archive/d/Suter
Book Recommendations –
The Unquiet landscape by Christopher Neve.
Documents of Contemporary Art: The Sublime https://shop.whitechapelgallery.org/products/the-sublime
Studied at Norwich School of Art 1989-1992 (so went at 22 rather than 18)… MA at Royal College of Arts 1992-1994
On the Aleph Contemporary Art website https://alephcontemporary.com/artists/51-joe-packer/works/ there’s a very interesting interview (see below). This contradicts some of the official blurb and gives an insight into his work (and art training in the 90’s) that you wouldn’t otherwise get from the website… I’ve added it after looking at one of his paintings.
‘EMBEDDED LAMENT’, 2020, Oil on canvas. Artist frame125 x 94 cm
This is very interesting bas it’s a mixture of forms and gestures, some marks are wholly gestural and others look like leaves. The colouration is very dense and the canvas complex, it almost straddles the border between conceptual art and gestural abstraction.
Ultimately, I think this is abstraction but heavily figurative. It doesn’t work like the abstract expressionists – with emotional punch or evoking the sublime – as it’s much too busy (but not contrived). But, it is engaging like a cross between Gauguin, Rousseau on very strong stimulants, and Matisse if he let himself go.
Ironically, for me, it’s slightly too conceptual and not as rooted as Patrick Heron.
Jo Packer interviewed by Dan Coombs (though in reality more a Dan Coombs lecture as Joe hardly gets a word in and Dan tells him what he’s thinking before he is invited to answer and then interrupted.)
If I were to sum up this interview I would say that Joe is trying to escape from his conceptual training for his MA and trying to find the integrity that his mother had (also a painter)… sadly, I think lost innocence is very difficult to capture.
Joe uses a library of invented ‘forms’ – he uses his sketchbook regularly to find them, these can be direct from nature but are usually remembered shapes from a walk that he ‘invents’. He has a hierarchy of brushstrokes, with the gestural (he now has a slow motion version) at the top and ‘filling in’ at the bottom.
Technique… builds up layers of acrylic (with the canvas flat) so that he has something to wrestle with, figure out, and work into.
Interestingly he grew up near woodland and escaped into it as a child… sounds very like my childhood. He is caught between that (and the integrity of his mother’s painting which he’d like to recapture) and the conceptual art he learned during his MA.
Early work was interiors from photographs with people painted out… thern he built models/photographed them and painted those… then he invented interiors from photographic sources… stopped painting for 6 months to care for his mother… discovered her paintings and put on an exhibition… started painting nature and trying to capture her integrity.
Painting in 90’s seen as progressive… figuration to abstraction to minimalism to conceptualism… but all that produced was corporate commodities. Now no progress in ‘painting’… many ways of painting simultaneously.
Gesture captures the unconscious… he likes to make something he doesn’t know where it’s going… an experiment… not knowing how it will look when he started…
(I share that in common)
He takes up to a year on each painting… heavily worked and painted over… so the finished painting is a series of remnants of many paintings (many of which could have been completed paintings).
(It’s an extreme example… but there’s always a choice of when to stop and will you make the painting better or worse.)
He talked about there being a movement back to nature… how it is a timeless ambiguity out of time… he has connections with Rothko (which I can see~) but said he was heavily influenced by William S. Burroughs (which I can’t see`).
He paints thin glazes over thick impasto – which you’re not supposed to do (but as Rembrandt did that Dan thinks it’s okay)… this makes his work like stained glass.
(I painted a glazed painting – with 5 glazes – and the colours were amazingly fresh so this is definitely a technique I will use).
Conceptually, he is also painting internal landscapes and psychologically, the body opened out for dissection.
There are many pointers for my practice… but at the moment the two that are most forceful: 1) the materiality of oil/multimedia/letting layers dry so working on multiple paintings and 2) However tempting an MA – and if I was young I’d do one – I think the conceptualisation and research might destroy the very thing which is my strength, my connection with nature.
I know a little of Simon Carter’s work as he ran an OCA Instagram takeover weekend. At the moment he seems to be producing a lot of work that looks very similar, semi abstract landscape. It almost seems to have become a process, or a way of working, and that he has lost his heart. Very skillful but not connected. However, I shall try and put my prejudice to one side.
Not a good start, I’ve just opened up his website and the last three year’s paintings all look the same, a variation on a theme.
And a couple of photographs on his process…
I really don’t know where to go with this. It looks like a landscape machine… you put a sketch or a photograph in one end and get out a Simon Carter out at the other. I even saw a painting by a student and identified it as a Simon Carter… she laughed as she’d been on a course with him and he’d taught her how to paint like him – not deliberately, I hope, but that was the result.
The use of colours, balance of the paintings and gestural loose brushstrokes are all of consummate quality. The paintings professional and saleable… but they leave me cold. I can’t see any passion or connection on the canvas.
The lesson for my practice is never to stop learning, changing , experimenting and engaging (he may engage passionately but I can’t see it). However, given my age I’ll be lucky even to get to ‘Emerging Artist’ stage before I stop so it’s not going to be a problem.
B. 1972 – Wikipedia: British artist who lives and works in London and the Welsh borders. Some of her works are on a very large scale; one commissioned for the Olympic Delivery Authority in London is 83 metres long.
Woods completed an MA in Fine Art at Goldsmith’s College, London in 1999, following a BA in Fine Art at Bath College of Art in 1994.
She is featured in many international collections.
The Recourse 150 cm x 150 cm Oil on Aluminium 2020
Aluminium is a very smooth surface with no absorbancy, I would think this affects both how the paint goes on the ‘canvas; and how it looks to the eye.
At this moment in time this is very figurative, so in terms of the overall composition not somnething I’d want to emulate.
However, the brushstrokes a really interesting and I love the clarity of colour. The simplicity of the gesture is wonderful and the placing of the marks exquisite. If I needed an example of not overworking a canvas this would be it.
It’s a very interesting mix of ‘reality’ (the ‘vase’ is painted quite traditionally even down to the shift of the stems as they enter the water) while the foliage and flowers are almost abstract. The flowers/foliage work reminds me of Joe Packer… but where he uses a selection of predetermined shapes (almost like letters in a language) and works his canvas for a year these gestures are perfectly placed, one offs more like the flourish of calligraphy… which is ironic in itself.
The lesson for my practice is to be open to the impulsive (but carefully considered?) gesture… placed and then not overworked.
She is one of… five extraordinary paintings are in with a chance of winning the coveted £25,000 first prize in the John Moores Painting Prize 2020. (https://pressreleases.responsesource.com/news/100820/uk-s-biggest-painting-prize-announces-shortlist/)
Compost, 2020, oil on linen, 41 x 46 cm
Linen is quite fine so the paint will move well which fits her gestural brushstrokes. In detail this is very abstract (examining it close up I can’t work out her technique – though it resembles the brushstrokes you make when playing with a big brush on a smooth surface) but as a painting on the monitor it resembles a bouquet of dead flowers, leaves and berries.
On her website it says… (https://www.michelefletcher.net/) … Michele Fletcher’s works are a sublime example of an encounter between the artist and the natural world. As a record of her movement in – and of – the landscape. In the works the paint drips, spreads, pools, thickens, thins, slips and slides across the canvas, tracing pulses, patterns and textures, which are reworked to give glimpses of biological forms entangled with diurnal rhythms. These gestures hint at the circadian cycles of flora and the natural world, at a threshold between abstraction and figuration. The works sway between landscape and memory, the seen and the unseen, and the invisible forces of the scientific and haptic world. These sensations are enfolded into the brushstrokes of the paintings.
It’s horrendously clever and very nice and I can see why it was shortlisted for this prestigious prize. But as a painting it leaves me cold… the abstraction doesn’t reach me and as a figurative description I can’t smell the rotting leaves.
I can take the use of brushstrokes (as a compositional tool rather than a gestural mark) as something I could experiment with; as well as the way she works into them to give them form. No pre-figured forms or patterns here, she’s as far away as you can get from Joe Packer. And it’s fascinating how close her abstraction is to figuration that it can be turned into a description of ‘compost’ more convincing than a photograph.
From ‘Artistaday’ website: https://www.artistaday.com/?p=19676 Maxine Davidowitz an oil painter based in Woodstock New York and New York City. She is a member of the Woodstock Artist’s Association and Museum. After a successful career as a magazine creative director she returned to her first love, painting. Maxine’s work is an exploration of the intersection of nature and the emotional lives of children, their not-quite-solid presence in the world.
‘Awareness’ Oil (no size or year given)
I had a look at her website and non of her paintings are anything I would want to paint, or be particularly interested in looking at. Many remind me of paintings and styles I have seen before and there doesn’t (yet) seem to be a personal voice. I can see that her paintings are well composed, professional and competent but to my eye they seem calculated and clever rather than connected.
Vivian Suter’s approach to materials and processes
The above is a link to: EXHIBITION – Vivian Suter – Tintin’s Sofa 17 January – 5 April 2020 at the Camden Arts Centre.
The introductory paragraph reads: Argentine-Swiss artist Vivian Suter (b. 1949, Buenos Aires), spent her teens and early career in Switzerland before moving to Panajachel, Guatemala in her thirties, setting up her home and studio in the midst of the jungle, beside the volcanic lake Atitlán. Drawing inspiration from the lush plants, vibrant flowers, birds and constantly changing weather of this tropical habitat, her mixed media abstract paintings evoke the living energy of the forest: large, unstretched canvases are swathed in colour, gestural brushstrokes and organic motifs.
There is a Virtual tour of the exhibition…
An Introductory Talk: Vivian Suter and Athanasios Argianas with Oliver Basciano by Camden Art Centre via #soundcloud https://soundcloud.com/camden-arts-centre/introductory-talk-vivian-suter-and-athanasios-argianas-with-oliver-basciano?utm_source=soundcloud&utm_campaign=wtshare&utm_medium=Twitter&utm_content=https%3A//soundcloud.com/camden-arts-centre/introductory-talk-vivian-suter-and-athanasios-argianas-with-oliver-basciano
A little background on her mother to contextualise Suter’s background is interesting… Armitstead, C. (2020) ‘Collage artist Elisabeth Wild dies in Guatemala, aged 98’ In: The Guardian 12/02/2020 At: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/feb/12/collage-artist-elisabeth-wild-dies-in-guatemala-aged-98 (Accessed 12/03/2021).
Suter works in Guatemala where she set up home on the slopes of a volcano by Lake Atitlán. Her works are created in the jungle (outside) at her studio using pigment and fish glue on unstretched canvas. After her workshop and canvases were damaged in a hurricane she found she liked the dried out distressed canvases so much that she now hangs new canvases outside to dry for two days and incorporates the jungle into them… insects, twigs, and the paw marks of her dog Tinto.
Two things struck me from this introduction… firstly that the host travelled to Guatemala and saw Suter’s work there. This is obviously a world (the art world) with privilege, money and resources… how many struggling families could afford that? It’s an observation, not a judgement, but by its nature the milieu of exhibitors and gallery viewers is not the ‘general’ public. This is a product for an exclusive market.
The show went round the art galleries in the UK which gave it the feel of a travelling show – entertainment – a little bit of the Guatemalan rain forests comes to you. These were made in and are composed of that rain forest… plus the history of the maker is very interesting.
In terms of my practice, I would like to make paintings that are accessible to everybody (even if only in the form of prints), so for a mass market. Though in terms of economics it would be very nice for the originals to be collector items.
However, my tutor asked me to look at her work in terms of how approached materials and process.
My initial thoughts are that she uses chance – she has no control over how the jungle will mark her work – and that the physical remnants of her environment and her daily life (which mix actual material such as insects and pollen with indexical marks such as paw prints) are an integral part of her work.
An Exhibition Walkthrough:
Suter was on the art scene in her 20’s when she went travelling in Mexico…fell in love with Guatemala (and a man) and bought an abandoned coffee plantation where she set up her studio. She was then out of the art world for 30 years – so presumably not selling any work but having another income – and was ‘rediscovered’ in the 2000’s.
Her process is interesting and I could hang my painting in a cherry tree to be degraded by the UK weather, or bury it in the garden, but I doubt it would have the same romantic appeal. Plus one piece of 2m x 1m unprimed canvas was £29 and had to be thought about… there must be a mortgage amount of canvases (just in materials) in this show.
However, there are similarities… we both like nature. She paints from nature… I could paint from nature. Much of her work is abstracted or semi abstract. She uses colour, form, gesture and brushstroke which are all elements that interest me.
A big difference is that the galley is selling ‘an experience’ rather than exhibiting paintings. The multitude of canvases create a jungle in the art gallery… which includes silence (the stillness of being in a forest)… the smell… and the visual experience of intuitively immersive canvases hung on the wall, from the ceiling and placed on the floor… overlapped and grouped differently for each show. She collages 3D space as much as exhibits ‘paintings’.
She stretches her canvases on a frame to paint them and then takes them off. They then lose there illusory quality (and relationship to western window on the world painting) and become organic, almost cultural objects… more totemic (tribal?) than high, end high, paintings.
She paints one a day, sometimes two, so they also become a diary of her life in the jungle. And in the scope of expression cover/reference most of western art… you can see everything from abstraction to figuration in her work… and echoes of artistic movements spanning the centuries… though as they are made in a day you’re never going to get a high end polished finish… by nature they are going to be gestural.
And an Artist Video:
This was a lovely short talk and threw up more connections. She chooses colours by what she feels not by observation… like me… though I also like natural colours. She loves to be outside (difficult in the winter in the UK) which I love as well. Suter said painting and being outside are two of her favourite things to do… ditto.
We both love bright colours but differ in as far as I want to make individual paintings on the picture plane (that can hang in somebody’s house) whereas she is more physical and sculptural…. it’s almost as if the individual canvases are parts of a giant immersive sculpture.
Finally she said, she would like people to feel good about her paintings and enjoy looking at them, which is what I’d like for my paintings too.
Apart from a growing sense that I can use nature to fuel my paintings, and be in nature more I like the idea of paibnting in series (which in a way is what her painbtings are)… they are all connected by her daily life and immersion in the jungle. This is more psychological than practical but something I could take forward.
Also, I can see that there are many ways an artist can relate to, and be in nature.
1) The Unquiet Landscape by Christopher Neve
Blurb about the book:
Christopher Neve’s classic book is a journey into the imagination through the English landscape. How is it that artists, by thinking in paint, have come to regard the landscape as representing states of mind? ‘Painting’, says Neve, ‘is a process of finding out, and landscape can be its thesis.’ What he is writing is not precisely art history: it is about pictures, about landscape and about thought. Over the years, he was able to have discussions with many of the thirty or so artists he focuses on, the inspiration for the book having come from his talks with Ben Nicholson; and he has immersed himself in their work, their countryside, their ideas. Because he is a painter himself, and an expert on 20th-century art, Neve is well equipped for such a journey. Few writers have conveyed more vividly the mixture of motives, emotions, unconscious forces and contradictions which culminate in the creative act of painting.
Each of the thirteen chapters has a theme and explores its significance for one or more of the artists. The problem of time, for instance, is considered in relation to Paul Nash, God in relation to David Jones, music to Ivon Hitchens, hysteria to Edward Burra, abstraction to Ben Nicholson, ‘the spirit in the mass’ to David Bomberg. There are also chapters about painters’ ideas on specific types of country: about Eric Ravilious and the chalk landscape, Joan Eardley and the sea, and Cedric Morris and the garden.
This sounds a great book… I’ll put it on my Christmas list… or when I’ve finished my next to ‘Recommended Reading’ books from the course will treat myself.
2) Documents of Contemporary Art: The Sublime
The blurb about the book on the Whitechapel Gallery shop:
Part of the acclaimed Documents of Contemporary Art series of anthologies.
In a world where technology, spectacle and excess seem to eclipse former concepts of nature, the individual and society, what might be the characteristics of a contemporary sublime? If there is any consensus it is in the notion that the sublime represents a taking to the limits, to the point at which fixities begin to fragment. This anthology examines how ideas of the sublime are explored in the work of contemporary artists and theorists, in relation to the unpresentable, transcendence, terror, nature, technology, the uncanny and altered states.
I think this would be a very interesting read, and will put it on my list. However, it is no quite what I am trying to paint. My relationship to nature is more country boy… more liker Suter… than any form of modern sublime. It’s a rooted earthy connection more than an intellectual or spiritual one.