My first idea
I started by looking at my paintings and considering which one to pick. My paintings ranged from semi abstract landscapes to aesthetic abstracts. As my practice is moving away from figuration (at the moment) I chose an abstract painting.
Looking at my recent paintings this meant either ‘Red Orange’ or ‘Rose Cottage’.
I thought ‘Red Orange’ might not produce enough variations so I chose ‘Rose Cottage’.
My next task was to find reflective surfaces. I could only find my coffee pot (which I scrubbed with wire wool), a large wall mirror and a small hand mirror – my tinfoil was matt and wouldn’t work as a reflecting surface.
The only set up that captured the whole canvas was the wall mirror and I couldn’t manipulate/photograph this without help.
I could digitally edit the coffee pot reflections to produce some interesting images but this made new digital art rather than a repeated image of my whole canvas.
Digitally edited Jpegs of coffee pot reflections to produce new artworks.
Although my hand mirror images could be digitally cropped to produce some interesting colour compositions they were partial images (of my whole canvas) and all completely different.
Hand mirror reflections of parts of ‘Rose Cottage’
So, I decided that I couldn’t use ‘Rose Cottage’ and would have to start again.
My new idea
I sought help and talked it over with a friend who suggested using one of my word paintings. This seemed like a fantastic idea because the painting was small enough to be completely reflected in the mirror, and reversing the writing would flag it as a mirrored reflection.
We look at ourselves in the mirror to check we look nice, our sense of identity is partially formed by our mirror image. As a young actor I was shocked (and not a little horrified) when I first saw myself on television because, for the first time, I saw myself as other people saw me, in the round and not front on and reversed. By flagging my images as reflections I can add a conceptual layer to my work.
Also, if I built a maquette out of mirrors not only would I get multiple reflections but my reversed writing would be turned back the right way by the reflections, so we would see both the ‘mirror’ and ‘real’ image. This could be a metaphor for self delusion and raise the issue of how we build our own identity. What are the raw materials of identity and how trustworthy are they? How ‘real’ is the narrative of the self we build inside ourselves and in our public and online presence.
The mirrors will also bring in the environment into the maquette/canvas so would be different in every setting. And they would catch the reflection of the viewer… which would add another psychological layer. I could even add a mirror in the centre on the canvas for the viewer to look at themselves?
The artists in my research that were most effective, such as Kusama and Hesse, all used identical but subtly different images. In Hesse’s case the differences were caused by handmade repetition while Kusama used different iterations of the dot.
If I use reflections of a complete canvas then each will be slightly different depending on the reflection, yet they’ll all form part of a set of multiple images (of the same object), and I’ll be able to stay within the ‘rules’ set by the exercise.
I have bought six A6 sticky backed plastic mirrors so I need to cut out some A6 card and play at making structures. When I have made my cardboard maquettes I can try out my mirrors by loosely attaching them.
Once I have picked my favourite maquette and stuck on the mirrors I can try adding my images.
Finally, I can translate my maquette onto canvas, 3D to 2D. I would like to incorporate mirrors into my canvas… perhaps I could paint reversed EY UP’s… and conventional EY UP’s… and if I make each EY UP by hand they will all be slightly different. I could play with different mediums… and if I stuck a mirror in the middle of my canvas that would add a narcissistic element as the viewer would naturally lean in and look at their reflection.
Mirrored photographs of ‘EY UP’
I made a simple new ‘Word’ painting using my stencils and soft charcoal as below:
Next I took a selection of mirrored images using my hand mirror.
Photographs of my mirror image.
Cropping my images
I was surprised by how many artistic choices there were in this simple process.
Was the image sufficiently focussed to use.
How would I straighten the image? Either by necessity to fit it in the crop or artistically to make a straight horizontal line.
The spaces around the images changed the look dramatically.
Every image had different lighting from light blue to white depending on whether a cloud was passing the sun.
Images had different reflections and shadows.
Once they were reversed and not read as language the black marks started to take on new meanings and read as paintings. I found this very strange as it was beyond merely seeing the letters as other shapes, or the imagined face in a cloud, but they almost took on personas.
I was left with a variety of crops… some square and some freeform.
I’ve arranged them systematically so it’s easy to see that even though at first glance some of them look the same, they are all subtly different in lighting and cropping.
It is interesting to compare this to a random arrangement of the same images. One thing I notice, is that the ‘organised’ crop makes an all over canvas while the ‘random’ arrangement focuses attention on the middle square. So, apart from anything else they are changing the internal dynamics and movement of the eye.
I don’t know which I prefer as they are so different and do different things.
Here are my freeform crops.
These are interesting as they alter the plane of the mirrored image.
My ‘EY UP’ photographs printed out and cut up
I wanted my prints approximately A5 but couldn’t work out how to adjust them in the printer so I added them to ‘Page’ and adjusted them there.
After I had printed two copies of each I cut them out and stuck them back to back on thin card. This gave me a pile of multisized, double sided, reflected ‘EY UP’ images to work with.
I then tested them out to check that when they were reflected in the mirror it would turn back them back into ‘EY UP’.
Making my Maquette
I was now faced with two choices… I could make a sculpture and stick my cards on top of it (so they were acting like paint) or I could make my maquette from the cards. I felt that using the the cards was somehow like working with the reflections themselves so I decided to do that.
My first idea was to make a maze because I thought it would be interesting to see how my images related on a planar, all over, level (more like a painting) than a defined sculpture with a ‘body’.
I joined my reflections together to make strips of two or three cards that would stand up.
Then I made my maze on the canvas and photographed it. I stood a mirror behind so that I could see what it might look like in a mirrored room where I’d like it displayed. The mirror turns the reflections back into ‘EY UP’ and if the viewer was in a mirrored gallery they would see a ‘true’ version of the ‘EY UP’ in the mirror at the same time as they saw a ‘false’ (reversed) image of themselves.
Next I made my sculptural maquette. I had in mind Matisse’s ‘The Serpentine’ as I love the curves, but I soon realised that that would be beyond my skills, so I decided to make ‘house of cards’ based on playing cards.
However, I had not allowed for the mechanical difficulties of making a stable structure out of different sized and shaped cards. I stood the cards on top of each other, added bits of sellotape and cut down the joins to try and beat physics but every time I made one change it altered the structure both mechanically and aesthetically so I had to make three or four other changes.
The process took at least a couple of hours and involved lots of experimentation but eventually I made a maquette. I took photographs all around it as it is meant to be viewed from all sides.
I didn’t manage to incorporate any negative space, such as gaps opening and closing as you walk round the maquette but the planes, colors and sizes of the surfaces all changed.
Again, I felt it needed completing by adding a mirror to turn the reflections back into EY UP and make the psychological point about how we form our self image/identity in a mirror, and yet our reflection is reversed and front on only and not at all how other people see us.
Also, as I am going to put mirrors into my painting I put a mirror in the maquette.
I then thought how I would display my maquette and decided I would add a large mirror. Unfortunately, I haven’t got a large mirror so used my shaving mirror instead.
If I exhibited this in a gallery I would have two sculptures, basically human shaped… or I could even collage masks? One sculpture would be made out of reflected ‘EY UP’ and ther other from reflected ‘OW DO’ – there would be a tape running inside ‘OW DO’ which said “OW DO” in different tones and voices, and one saying ‘EY UP’ inside “EY UP” as if they were greeting each other. In among these two sculptures you would have big mirrors, which reflected off each other, so it looked like a crowd of people saying hello.
I think this would ask questions about identity and self image because it’s only people outside us that see and hear us as we are, and yet we are made up of reflected images, both visually and psychologically.
Making my maquette was a useful exercise as it’s clarified my thoughts about my painting. I now know what I want to achieve… I just need to think of a way of doing it.
My painting… making my mirrors.
I had bought 16 A6 1mm thick sticky backed mirrors and because the advert had said they cut easily and bend, I had lots of ideas about how I could stick them onto curved surfaces and make geometrical shapes like pyramids. However, they were not easy to cut or bend. The only way to cut them without shattering was on a flat surface with a Stanley knife, and they were much too rigid to stick to a curved surface.
This was a good lesson of reality versus imagination, as you don’t know what materials will do until you get them in your studio and start using them.
My solution was to work with my new material and cut my mirrors up into rectangles and squares that I could stick to cuboids.
This was a long process and technical rather than artistic. A technician, or factory, could much more easily have made my mirrored shapes as I could, and it made me realise why artists sometimes have their work built in a factory. For instance, Damien Hirst didn’t have the skill to cut his cow and calf in half and stick them in a glass case… and Jeff Koons couldn’t fashion his industrial sized sculptures of small kitsch objects. Just like architects don’t have to lay the bricks so artists can design their art and have it made by somebody else.
People could copy the idea of Damien Hirst’s cows and commission say, half a pig, but it would not be art… it would be a copy of an idea. However, if Jeff Koons’ sculpture became a production line this would raise questions about the boundary between art and commodity. For instance, if Koons commissions a factory to make a 3 metre silver copy of a 1 cm plastic kitsch Madonna, and then that factory makes 1 million, is he the designer of a high end product or making art for the masses?
Where is the line between interior design and art?
Sticking my mirrors on the canvas
This involved lots of experimentation to make the mirrors aesthetically pleasing in their own right (as a sculpture), reflective of each other and the surface of the canvas (conceptual), and to connect them to the flat canvas (planar).
I found the solution was counter intuitive. I had thought that angling them to each other in a random distribution would be the most attractive, but I found that positioning them like buildings in a model town worked best. I think this was because it created meaning. The gaps between the ‘buildings’ became streets and drew your eye into the composition so you walked down pathways, and the different sizes and shapes of the mirrors gave the compositional interest without having to arrange them ‘artistically’.
Ready to paint
My stencils and black (from ultramarine and burnt umber) acrylic paint.
I was surprised how fluid the acrylic was after using oil paint. The paint bled underneath the stencils and created blotchy letters, surprisingly, I found this didn’t destroy the integrity of the letters and gave them a handmade quality that contrasted well with the clean lines of the mirrors.
I Make Me in the Mirror, 41 x 51 cm, acrylic and mirrors on canvas
Although ‘finished’ this is also a work in progress at the very start of its evolution. The letters look like muddy footprints and I could play with this more, I could work on the placing of the letters and make pathways as if somebody was walking round the mirrors. The positioning of the mirrors could be improved too.
I would love to exhibit this with a large mirror behind the viewer so the mirrored letters on the canvas are reflected ‘correctly’, and the viewer can see themselves viewing the painting at the same time as they are looking at the painting.
The viewer is meant to go up close to the painting and look ‘inside’ it, so (ideally) it would be hanging on a wall like the mirrors we use to check we look okay before going out.
I would classify this as fine art rather than painting as it is conceptually based. My idea is to question our sense of identity, and how we build it, by raising the awareness that our view of ‘self’ is false. Our ‘self image’ is a mirror image and not how we appear to other people. The equivalent in life would be to build an ideology on a false data set. It is also meant to raise the metaphorical question of false news… and how do we know that the media is truthful and not a filtered reflection of reality?
I have articulated my research journey and how it articulated into practice in my blog.
Conclusion about my own work:
Having completed this project I think it’s naive to think that my aesthetic abstractions can be non conceptual.
By this I mean that even an aesthetic abstract which doesn’t engage thought (words), drive a narrative, or isn’t in any way mimetic – of the emotional/experiential or visual world – still has a concept and an origin.
The concept could be an artistic withdrawal from the jungle of society and lived life to a common (sub language) humanity that everybody can connect with. But there are two problems with this, firstly I am a product of every experience and thought that I have ever had and a cultural product of my society, and secondly I can never know that there is such a thing as a mythic human, an Adam and Eve, that is accessible to a sub language connection.
That said, there are lots of examples of aesthetic abstraction such as Rothko’s paintings which affect many people .
Another conclusion is that I need a starting point, an entry into my canvases, which connects me to them. I may end up so confident in my materials that I can ‘commune’ directly with my canvas but I am far from that point.
So, the two things I need to develop in my practice are a better, and wider, understanding of my materials, and ways of connecting to my canvas rather than just making and responding to marks… though that may be one way in?
Revised work plan:
I am going to research a selection of artists (five suggested by my tutor and one I found myself) working in aesthetic abstraction – this should take around 10 hours.
In my 40 hours I am going to make 4 paintings of approximately 10 hours each.
A painting based on Gordon Cheung’s method of sticking strips of skin-like acrylic paint to construct a painting.
Spending a day plein air sketching and then to using this experience as a way to connect to the canvas without any obvious mimetic painting.
4. Exploring the materials suggested by my tutor and using them to create a canvas. This will include pouring, glazing and staining.