I began the tutorial by telling Jonathan that I had found the first part of the course to be busier than expected – with all the inductions, lectures, workshops, symposiums, gallery visits, chat sessions, reading etc. However, although I’d been busy with the course, I felt I had also spent relatively little time actually making work (which is probably the most important thing!) I then explained how I currently envisage taking three different approaches to making work: firstly, to complete some preconceived (and more-or-less fully formed) ideas that I’ve been planning, considering or sketching for some time. While these may not end up being ‘great’ works of art, I felt it was important to ‘get them out of my head’ so I could move on.
Secondly, to produce purely experimental work, which may be just investigations into formal properties (such as colour) of certain media, without a preconceived idea of a finished outcome.
Thirdly, to produce work which is more research-led – and this would, by necessity, be a medium-to-long term goal.
I mentioned how I had an idea for a blog post – to write a ‘manifesto’ of what I personally value in works of art (more on this later). The item which would come top of this list is something which I also felt was perhaps missing from my first project proposal: that ‘successful’ (worthwhile/valuable) art should generate an emotional response in the viewer. By this I mean that the best art is not boring, polite and ponderous – or merely cerebral (provoking nothing more than chin-stroking) – but is instead arresting, distinctive, extreme, visceral, makes an impact, grabs attention and aspires to create an almost physical response in the viewer (in a similar way to music).
I explained how this is especially important when work is exhibited at large group exhibitions (such as student shows) where viewers can sometimes eventually become overwhelmed by the amount and variety of work on display and suffer from ‘art blindness’. (Is there a parallel in wider society with the current malaise of information overload and anxiety?)
This led to a discussion about a ‘preconceived’ piece I’ve been working on, provisionally titled ‘Attention Seeker’. It currently exists only as a vector illustration but will be produced as large stencil cut and spray-painted canvas (80 x 60 cm). It features a dense tessellation of multicoloured hazard warning signs (exclamation marks). I explained how the design had gradually evolved in order to ‘make it make-able’, and how I had used a restricted colour palette (including metallic and fluorescent paints) and arranged the colours in a very deliberate ‘non-contiguous’ way in order to maximise contrast.
I also described how the piece addresses many of my concerns. It hopefully fulfils the first point of my ‘manifesto’ (see above) by being attention grabbing etc. It explores the relationship between visual and textual languages, and the worlds of art and design, by incorporating typographic elements — the exclamation mark — which has personal significance (I've used it as a logo for my business and a recurring motif in my design work). As a street sign, it's also an example of sampling from the urban environment, as well as referencing street art and graffiti. It vividly explores colour; and along with the title, also makes a self-referential comment on the nature of art as a means of ‘seeking approval’.
It illustrates dichotomies such as simplicity/complexity; digitally-produced/handmade; fixed/fluid; precision/accident — and preconceived (tightly controlled, digital vector illustration) as opposed to random (messy, drippy, analogue). This is important as much of my client work (graphic design) is very ‘tight’ and I intend to paint the canvas in a way that emphasises the liquid qualities of spray paint — the variance in tone, the fuzzy edges, the inevitable errors and especially the drips.
Jonathan said that I shouldn’t contrive these drips or errors, as they would then look obviously fake. I accept this point but I would also still like the drips etc to be a significant element in the overall composition. (During a recent visit to the London Art Fair I saw this painting titled ‘whooo!’ by Geoff Catlow, which shows the kind of effect I have in mind.)
Jonathan recommended that I should perhaps try animating the painting using After Effects — after first separating the individual elements in Photoshop. He also suggested that it could be built in three dimensions by tiling the triangles together. I’m keen to try the animation and to learn After Effects, but perhaps no so convinced about the 3D suggestion…
We then talked about a second ‘preconceived’ piece I’m working on, titled ‘Illuminate’. This too has only been sketched in a vector artwork format so far, but will be built in three dimensions from laser cut coloured acrylic and backlit by being mounted on a lightbox. I explained how it still needs some work and more detailed planning until it reaches a ‘make-able’ state, and particularly needs to be simplified. Jonathan agreed and suggested that I simplify the colour palette using only RGB values, which would create other combined colours in the overlaps. He also suggested using lighting gels instead of acrylic and we discussed how it might work with a more 3D treatment — with greater space between the layers. Overall, he said that creating the piece would be worthwhile in that I could learn a lot from the making of it.
I then mentioned how I had recently become more interested in crowd sourcing as a means of social engagement in making artwork. Jonathan discussed some examples which could be useful for further research including: Grizedale Arts in Coniston, a web app called Web Canvas and the blog of second year online MADA student Katrine Granholm whose main research question is, ‘Can art be social?’
I returned to the subject of the ‘manifesto’ idea. Jonathan said that this might be worth doing if only so I could look back in future to see what might have changed in my thinking. I agreed that it would not be set in stone nor too earnest. I raised a particular ‘manifesto’ point about meaning and accessibility. By this I mean that I currently feel that most truly rewarding artwork has meaning, or narrative, that is easily understood by non-specialist (or so-called ‘uneducated’) viewers — and is not just a formal experiment, eye candy or a ‘pretty pattern’. I would qualify this by also saying that it should still have some mystery — demanding at least some work on behalf of viewer, which compels them to engage or ‘interact’ with it further.
Jonathan responded by saying that while he generally agrees with this, I shouldn’t worry too much about it and that people always view art with their own cultural baggage and education. He went on to describe how meaning isn’t necessarily fixed or predetermined during the making process, but is often revealed to artists themselves during reflection, or over time once the work is completed (‘holding a mirror up to yourself’). He gave the example of one of his favourite painters, Justin Mortimor (I saw his recent show at The Haunch of Venison, Eastcastle Street) who he believes is likely to take this approach. (I guess that Jonathan might be advocating a more intuitive way of making work?)
This led to brief discussion of using blogs (including other subjects I’m considering writing about) and the method of ‘double reflection’. Jonathan said that MA students who do this well condense five years worth of work into one or two, and help give their careers a good start upon graduation. He said that it is best to update the blog ‘little and often’ (precisely the opposite of what I have done so far!) Overall I found the tutorial helpful — it’s always good to have your assumptions challenged and to hear a different perspective on your ideas.