Wednesday, December 22, 2010

New Painting: 'House on Marconi'

House on Marconi 2010, 5.5 X 8" acrylic on illustration board.

It’s an odd sensation painting something that one walks by everyday. The subject of ‘House on Marconi’ sits only a few yards from our front door.

Over the last few months, during the daily dog walk, I’ve occasionally been tempted to check out details that were unclear in the source photograph but I mostly avoided looking too hard. There’s an awkward creepiness in paying so much furtive attention to someone else’s house. It’s not unlike developing an obsessive crush on the person who makes your soy latte every morning. Not that I would know anything about that.

Being so deeply immersed in a subject, as one is when spending three months painting it, is an unusual experience. All the more unusual given the prosaic nature of the subject. No one in the ‘real’ world ever spends that much time considering such a quotidian scene.

I have a complicated, subconscious response to my subjects that feels almost physical. It may be the sense of desolation or the inherent, sad beauty of the unremarkable facades but I get a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach when confronted by the scenes that become paintings. They act as clues to some long buried personal mystery, each one giving a sense of bringing me closer to resolution but never delivering a result.

As I sort through my slides looking for the subject of my next painting, I have to constantly remind myself that it’s the pit-of-my-stomach, anxiety-disorder, existential aloneness that I’m painting, not old houses, storefronts, or my neighbourhood. Certain examples of these things can trigger in me the feeling I’m wanting to explore but aren’t, in and of themselves, a reason to paint.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Performance Ritual

Recently, I filmed an entire day of my painting process, my ‘Performance Ritual’. It was an exhausting day. I had a long list of shots I needed to illustrate the typical day in my studio beginning with the first few moments after waking at seven to the final marking of my time sheet and extinguishing of my lamp at five.

Much of what I wanted to record was the cycle of activity outside the walls of my condo-studio. In my isolated art-bubble, the daily routines of the mechanics, the body shop, the commuter train, the school bus depot, embrace me as part of the larger world of work. In our previous neighbourhood, a family filled street of brick duplexes and triplexes whose facades ran unbroken from one end of the block to the other, the daily exodus for work or school left the neighbourhood eerily quiet, the conventional nature of life there only accentuating the isolation that an artist can sometimes feel.

I’ve connected ‘work’ with my art since I quit my job to explore the possibility of painting full time in 1983. A combination of guilt and an overblown presbyterian work ethic ensures that my practice is a sober one. I’ve never owned an easel or a palette or worked with more than one brush although I will admit to wearing a beret in snowstorms in the eighties.

My improbable choice of working surface, a metal, sixties office desk and my lifelong fascination for offices and office supplies and equipment no doubt stems from my Father’s long held job at an insurance company whose offices were a repository of oddballs and cranks that I mostly feared and my Mother’s job in the sixties, cleaning offices from which she’d return, late at night, with the discards of Union Carbide: outdated stationery, Eveready Battery signs, battery testers and odd product labels on sheets.

As a child I endured one or two Christmas parties at my Father’s workplace and one staff picnic of which my only memory is getting lost and tearfully searching for my Father among the drunken adults. While the office discards of reams of paper and other supplies kept me busy as a kid, my Father mostly kept this part of his life separate from his family and bred in me a resentment for this other ‘family’.

I’m always fascinated by how well buried are the roots of our present day actions. My intuitive desire to film a day of work juxtaposed with the routines of the workers outside my studio brought home to me, yet again, the connections between our childhood experiences and the sometimes puzzling choices we make as adults.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Artist's Statement

Rosedale Manor 2007, 5.5 X 8" acrylic on paper.

The artist statement is an odd document. The bastard child of art and literature, often neither artistic nor literate. It is to art what ‘compulsory figures’ were to nineteen sixties figure skating competitions: an adjudicated series of prescribed moves which relate only marginally to artistic expression.

I’ve always resented and resisted the kind of statement that results in successful grant applications. Not surprisingly, I haven’t had many successful grant applications. When I think of a juror on a grant committee, I transpose, in my mind, an elderly East German figure skating judge: a stooped man in a drab overcoat, peering at the cuts on the ice and marking his card in the manner of the juror checking off the currently acceptable phrases and concepts.

Though I’m convinced no one has ever read any of my statements, I’ve always found them to be a good way to crystalise an explanation of what my subconscious is trying to accomplish in my work. A way of conveying to the average person the intent behind a seemingly nondescript collection of images.

My most recent statement for Jim Kempner Fine Art is marginally more ‘art world’ than usual for me but given my new audience and a burgeoning awareness of some long hidden concepts in my process, it seemed appropriate.

Please forgive me for referring to ontology.


Artist’s Statement:

In 1993 I began using photo based imagery in order to eliminate the identifiable marks I make as an artist. In practice, using a single photographic slide as reference and adhering strictly to the information presented in the image is as close as a realist painter can get to objectivity. By restricting my palette (two reds, two blues, yellow and black) the size of the paintings (5.5 X 8”) and by using a single brush (an inexpensive #6 gold sable) I’ve further eliminated many subjective decisions from my process.

I don’t seek out my subjects. They emerge from the periphery of awareness and are almost entirely buildings which have achieved a level of invisibility in their surroundings. The kind of invisibility that heralds transformation: renovation; destruction. I’m interested in the ontological question of being: If it’s ‘invisible’ to everyone, does it exist?

I see my process as ‘performance ritual’. Monday to Friday I work at an old office desk from 9 am to 5 pm. I begin the day by removing the paints from a drawer on my left and placing them on the desk. I remove the painting from a box in front of the desk. At noon I break for lunch and record my morning’s hours on a time sheet that I keep in a drawer on the right. At 12:30 pm I resume working until 5 pm when I record the afternoon’s hours on the sheet. This ‘performance ritual’ contravenes the notion of the artist as free spirit, presenting instead the artist as worker, toiling to create an article of cultural consumption. The product is a much fetishised image on board: the average 5.5 X 8” painting requiring 280 hours to complete from a slide exposed at 1/60th of a second, a time factor of 60,480,000 to 1.

I’ve come to accept the folly of hoping to eliminate the self through representative imagery but I’ve managed what is, for me, an acceptable level of detachment from my subject and the physical object of the completed painting through the restrictions I’ve imposed on my process.

Neil MacCormick

September, 2010.