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.

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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.