Brancaster Chronicle No. 19: Patrick Jones Paintings

flat screen

Flat Screen, 2014, 98x180cm, acrylic on canvas.

24th August 2014, Nick Moore’s studio in Bristol.

Those present; Patrick Jones, Mark Skilton, Hilde Skilton, John Bunker, Nick Moore, Sam Cornish, Robin Greenwood, Sarah Greenwood, Anne Smart, Anthony Smart, Ben Wiedel- Kaufmann, Noela James, Emyr Williams.

Patrick Jones: I will just say that the paintings, to me, are to do with the fact that I work very, very thinly, on bare canvas. I don’t prime them at all, and I work with stained, thin acrylic paint. And the problem occurs for me when the paint gets to this consistency, when it becomes like a leatherette settee. [pointing at No.6] The weave of the canvas is filled up with acrylic, and it begins to get a sort of plastic shine on it. Obviously I’ve tried all sorts of things, like putting sand in it, and messing about with the paint, but I’m aware that this sort of thick body of acrylic deadens the surface considerably, and unfortunately it’s an inevitable part of me changing my mind about the colour. If I’m changing my mind about the colour, which I have to do, you know, a number of times, then the weave of the canvas fills up, and once the weave is filled, the painting can die. You know, it actually can die, like a plant.

Anne Smart: Do you think that’s a fact of acrylic? Have you chosen to stick to acrylic? You’ve chosen not to use oil?

Patrick: Yes, it’s partly to do with acrylic. I’ve always used acrylic, and I was brought up with it and I like it. It’s inert, and it’s not something I have to mess about with a lot to get it to do what I want. But that’s what I see the problem with the painting as being. Trying to work with virtually nothing on the canvas until the weave is filled, and then it changes. It’s a technical problem; it’s how to keep a painting varied and lively and interesting on that surface, if that makes any sense. So I fairly consciously don’t go to the next level of very thick paint. Except in the early one from 1982, where I could mix thick and thin together. That was a different problem. But I’ve stopped using gel, which is the big lumpy stuff, and I try and keep it pretty much within that narrow range. Which does give the end appearance of a watercolour. That’s all I’ve got to say.

Mark Skilton: So has your development in painting been determined by the sort of technical aspect of how it handled the stuff on canvas?

Patrick Jones: Yeah. That’s how I see my problem, it’s HOW to paint is the most difficult problem. There’s a number of different ways; we discussed cropping. I used to paint flat on the floor, and I had a big studio so I could do a number of very liquid paintings, which were then cropped afterwards. And that is quite different than when you’ve got a rectangle which you are filling because once you’ve filled the box then there’s nothing to do but come forward technically with the painting. Does that make sense?

Mark Skilton: Yes, I can understand that, yeah.

Patrick Jones: So I have chosen, for about ten years now, not really to crop the paintings at all. I just work on the stretcher, on the size of the stretcher that I start with. And therefore the painting changes but the shape doesn’t change. And, you know, I do abandon a huge amount of work. I actually roll up 30 paintings a year, easily, that I feel don’t work.

Noela James: Is it because you’ve filled in the mesh?

Patrick Jones: Yes, it’s trying to deal with flat colour.

Anthony Smart: To my eye, this painting [Flat Screen] is the one that is attracting me the most. I think there are quite a few paintings in this show which I don’t feel at all comfortable with, at home with, or know where I’m going. This is at the moment the one I’d like to hear people talk about, because I rather think, unless I’m completely bonkers, that this has really got something going.

Patrick Jones: It’s the most recent one, so I’d be pleased about that.

Anthony Smart: The thing about it is that it has a big spread ‘attack’, and it gets out, pushing out – it’s how it does it. So, I mean, I think loads of paintings that move out, move upwards, but quite how this does it… And at first I thought it was a frame, with a screen image in the middle, and I quickly got over that, largely due to this bit, in the left hand corner. And so what I first thought was a screen, this bottom row starts… it moves to the left and leaves the painting, and that stretches it, in a way. And these, what I first saw as windscreen wipers, these things, which are sometimes dividing this thing up, and then the blocks of paint are dividing it up, and then shape is dividing it up, and then the soft edge is dividing it up, they are also doing this to it. There’s so many, its very device driven, sort of gadget driven, but nevertheless, all this starts to add up, and the… it’s simple, in the sense that it is daringly close to being the central image. It’s got so many things about it that you think can’t be good, can’t be right. But it keeps going. I like the ones of yours that aren’t like what I’m used to. And I’m sort of betting on this being the best of them, as they are at the minute. It’s difficult; the colour is spreading the thing out, and it’s doing it in ways I am just not familiar with. I really like this.

Patrick Jones: Oh, thank you. Because I struggled with it and it was a disaster that was going wrong, because it had a big frame image in the middle; but slowly, you know, I sat and looked at it for about four days, and then decided the thing I liked really was the drawing around this edge; not the big square, I had to get rid of the big square, but the wiggly drawing…

Anthony Smart: Yes, but the quality of that edge, and the quality of it down here… I know it’s been done before, but it’s the combination of the things, all coming on together, this arrangement… this is broken here … and it starts to sort of come together.

Noela James: It’s an unusual mixture of real graphic images and sort of free-form painting, which I find happens in a lot of your work. You’ve got pictures within pictures, haven’t you?

jade

Jade, 2014, 88x120cm, acrylic on canvas.

Anthony Smart: This one resists the temptation to become ‘cartoony’, you know… [Whereas] in Jade the centre box, so to speak, is ‘shell-like’, ‘egg-like’, you know, painted quite deliberately. And then you look at it again, and when you’re a long way away, it’s quite a three-dimensional form, sitting right in the middle of the painting. When you get right up to it, it breaks down and becomes something else. That’s not really what we’re talking about, is it? We’re talking about this one, Flat Screen.

John Bunker: I kind of agree with what you’re saying, and I’m interested in what Patrick thinks about this. You’ve had a very particular way of working for a long period of time, this idea of, as you said, a kind of ‘gadgetry’ approach; or like, there are these different languages that you’ve built up over a period of time, and now you’re beginning to force these different languages together. I’m thinking about this other painting, Big Blue No Passeran, because I feel as though, in this painting, something is kind of pulling apart their way of working, in a strange kind of way. We’re presented with these slightly different versions of different paintings, and my instant response to it was that I’m seeing four paintings at least here, plus a fifth one that the other four are in. And when I look at the beautiful way in which you’ve manipulated the paintings, the way, which you’ve already talked about, that reoccurs throughout most of the work here… and yet you’re now beginning to force it into these strange new relationships, whether it be the hard edged qualities or the thick paint application, or you know, the masking… So a bleed suddenly becomes a hard line, or we’re constantly confronted with these difficult passages that stop-start, almost like a bit of atonal music or something. You drift into something and then it shifts again, and you’re forced back out of the picture, or you’re forced to try and reconcile very irreconcilable things. That’s my immediate impression. From especially these groups of paintings that have the four sections that come up, in and down, into the painting.

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Big Blue No Passeran, 2010-14, 128x210cm, acrylic on canvas.

Patrick Jones: Nicely put, John, yeah very nicely put. All I’ll say is that there is something going on in the work which is deconstructing what I’m doing all the time, and I am conscious of it because it makes life difficult. But I am trying to take apart the bits, yeah… if that makes any sense.

Sam Cornish: Yeah, I mean I think, I think that often I’m really drawn to small elements of the, of the paintings. And I find it harder to see a whole thing. I suppose that’s probably just exactly what John’s said. Sort of, almost like a virtuoso, kind of, bits where different types of things meet each other. Maybe most of those slightly earlier ones have a kind of simple format, in a way, and can contain all those bits of virtuoso handling and all the different colour relations. And then in these others, it’s like that format has been broken up. I mean, almost very obviously broken up, and I think that is probably a good thing, but it’s whether it’s created something new out of the remains of the older, kind of more conventional, four-square kind of format.

wandering

Wandering, 2014, 76x218cm, acrylic on canvas.

Patrick Jones: Can I say that the way of attaining the unity that you said they lack was to stain the whole canvas one colour, all the way over, that creates unity, but that forces the edge of the painting to be really important, and that’s why I did Wandering, which basically doesn’t have an edge, it doesn’t have a framing edge, as such, and the image is looser inside the rectangle. And then Wandering gave rise to Moby

Noela James: They, they seem completely different to anything else you’ve done.

Patrick Jones: Yes, they are. I’m trying to get away from my own…

Robin Greenwood: There are still framing elements in both.

Patrick Jones: Yeah, there are unfortunately, yeah. It’s very hard to…

moby

Moby, 2014, 176x60cm, acrylic on canvas.

Robin Greenwood: In fact, very much so, in, in Moby.

Mark Skilton: I find that the right hand side of Big Blue No Passeran the entire right half, seems to work particularly well as a whole thing, whereas I find the whole painting I have problems with, especially with the two big windows on the left hand side. Partly I suppose because of the tonal change, also the colour. But on the right hand side, the fact that they form separate windows, but they seem to be in with the blue, the blue ceases to be a background, as such. And it ceases to be a unifying device, it’s like it’s part of the whole thing. And Patrick’s extraordinary technique, it just works so beautifully, within the separate areas, within the blue, and then it’s into the other one. But I find the left hand side tends to be very different.

Patrick Jones: Every painting I’ve ever done has fallen into two halves. I just do it, I do it all the time, and I struggle to achieve the unity. It’s a constant theme thought the work, and obviously I try and avoid that.

Mark Skilton: But you are putting that idea under extreme pressure as well, though, aren’t you? You know, it’s very, ambitious in the fact that you are forcing these languages together.

Anthony Smart: The trouble, Mark, with taking that path away is that you’re going to end up really with quite a backward looking stripe painting. Block it off, and it becomes quite… I don’t know what the hell they’re doing, I don’t know why they’re there, I know nothing about it. I just resist the temptation to cut it off, and, you know what I mean? I’d literally cut the painting in half.

Mark Skilton: I can see what the ambition of the painting is, what it’s reaching for, but I don’t think it achieves it. But what is achieved, I think, in the right hand side, is a sensitivity with the technique, and the use of colour.

Anthony Smart: I don’t, I don’t disagree with you and I do think that one half is better than the other half. The wilful thing is the four boxes all being the same, that is like making it absurdly difficult.

Patrick Jones: Yeah, yeah, I know, I agree.

Robin Greenwood: But there are a number of paintings that you’ve done like this as a whole series…

Patrick Jones: Yeah, I’ve done a whole series of these paintings, which started in 1997, and the first one’s probably the best.

Anthony Smart: Where is it?

Patrick Jones: It’s in somebody’s house.

Sam Cornish: How, how are the four boxes established at the beginning?

Patrick Jones: Just with masking tape, on the wash

Sam Cornish: They have to be, because of the way you work, which doesn’t allow you too much working over, so that the format has to be there. You can’t change the edge of that box once you’ve started.

Patrick Jones: In this painting I’d rather prefer to darken the two elements on the two boxes on the left of the picture, bring them tonally down towards the blue, so they’d have much more chance of surviving in a unity with the blue. It’s because they’re so pale, and stand out so much, but it’s a contrast that I’m interested in really, that sort of contrast between that, and that. It’s just going that way, if you see what I mean? Because that’s sort of set back and that’s coming forward, or something, something like that.

Anne Smart: We are standing incredibly close to this, and this is quite significant, this piece of red down here. I mean, if we were further away, that would help to bounce you back to that side as well.

Hilde Skilton: But being close also helps you to see all the variety just in the blue, I mean, I find this, if this is a background colour, as you put it, which it isn’t because you masked it, so it can’t be background, it shines through and it’s got a lot of colour within it.

Mark Skilton: A lot of variation.

Hilde Skilton: Yeah, there’s some beautiful passages.

Noela James: This blue, rising into the orange.

Patrick Jones: I hate to say it, but ultramarine blue, which is the colour, is capable of being radiant when it’s dark, and often other colours, like hookers green, don’t do that at all, it just looks like black when it dries, so I haven’t used the quality of that particular blue to pull it out, if you like.

Hilde Skilton: To shine. Shine through, yeah. The painting Jade, is that hookers green?

Patrick Jones: Yes, that’s hookers green and white.

Hilde Skilton: Because I mean, I like that painting, but it doesn’t, the green isn’t doing what…

Patrick Jones: This is a painting which I felt was only just rescued really, by some patches of light, which I managed to get some light into these areas, which are bottom left of Jade, by adding white, you know, pouring white over the top of the dark, because it threatened to be enclosed, like an insect, like a wasp, and I couldn’t… but this dried with the light, the appearance of natural light in it, and I realised something good had happened there. It was hard to get that feeling of light coming across that edge. I felt the painting had saved itself.

Hilde Skilton: I’m interested to hear that you say natural light. How would you differentiate between just the light that the colour gives it?

Patrick Jones: It’s another argument, but I don’t see how, as an abstract painting, you can conceive light in a painting unless you use your memory of what light looks like in experience. And that’s something which we might leave to abcrit

Hilde Skilton: But there’s light which you get through colour and then there’s light like a sunbeam, and…

Anne Smart: I think the light you get through colour, this is an abstract thing; the light that you get from a sunbeam has got to have a figurative context, hasn’t it? In a sense, it comes from a particular source.

Patrick Jones: I think I’m talking about sunbeam light there then, probably.

Hilde Skilton: So it is a figurative thing?

Patrick Jones: Yeah, well, it’s something that you experienced in nature, yes, therefore I’ve put it in the picture using a reference from outside. You know, as Anne says, obviously, colour does create light, but in that, in that painting that pale area down there, looks like light on the mountains, so it’s sort of, it looks like light caught…

Anthony Smart: But the problem, Patrick, is, while I was hooked into thinking that that was rotating over a shell like… That is natural light, that is what happens with natural light, it describes a form. I’m simply saying that if you start curving, in that sense, that does become as I described it, when I referred to the painting, and then on another occasion you look at it and you don’t see it like that at all. The closer you get, the less it does it, but as you come back, it starts to become a real thing, as if you’re painting an egg.

Anne Smart: I’m quite interested in what you said then. Because it didn’t occur to me at all on that painting. But the way you described it, describes very well what I felt about this painting, Moby, which was the way that you used white, on top of other things, to make the painting lose some of the form. And I didn’t really think it was anything to do with light, a source of light really, or particularly the colour. I thought it was quite a new thing I hadn’t seen before, that was like a combination of using the colour but building on the white, because it occurred to me that it’s quite a strong central shape here, you know, this sort of framing, but because it’s a more… fluid-y and sort of painted, the sections are, you know, more painted, but then, you’ve bolted on to that this lovely way of bringing this, softening these edges with this way you’ve put this top white on. And in here, as a whole thing, I think it’s starting to work quite brilliantly. In here, I don’t understand what you’re saying, I’m sorry, I don’t quite get that. Because it seems to me that it’s like a sort of Patrick Magic Moment, that you know, you’re aware of. Whereas here, you really seem to be incorporating it into this way of painting, it certainly seems to take on board a lot of the things that are happening in Wandering, which were about the blank canvas, and in here, you seem to be taking, putting paint, and making things that feel like, you know, they’re, it’s being articulated more, worked more, but hasn’t lost the fabulous quality of the freshness of unpainted canvas.

Noela James: It feels like you’re dissolving the more graphic elements that you have in your other paintings, and Moby, I really like that one.

Sam Cornish: It’s quite interesting, because there is a sort of conflict between the format and the detail, that virtuoso kind of detailing of colour, which dots around the format. And this looks interesting, those graphic elements, which before would be whole, almost whole things, just appear as interruptions; they kind of work the other way round, because they themselves, they’re more broken up…

Ben Wiedel- Kaufmann: I’m excited by what Sam’s talking about, the fact that these small passages and small relations seem to have a freedom, a different relationship to that structuring. And I think that’s quite exciting. But it’s interesting, that central passage that Anne was talking about, for me, I haven’t found that, but, I find it very interesting as an idea to see that progress to get away from those structural things.

Sam Cornish: Do the smaller marks tend to come last, as it were?

Patrick Jones: Often I, I have to say, very often the little bits of red come the last, yeah. And there’s rather too many of them in that one.

Emyr Williams: It struck me in Flat Screen that it’s quite a sea change in your work from seeing all the other ones that the architecture, if you could use that term, is more arrived at rather than imposed from the outset. And also, the use of the linear elements I think is a bolder move that gives it a much more forthright, stronger quality. That is, whereas the wash-stained ones you can do in your sleep, because you’re very accomplished at doing that, they have the trappings of art, maybe, a conventional non-art, whereas this one has a more exciting, slightly kitschy quality to it, you know, in a positive way. Um, and you’re getting more out of the, what you prize, in terms of the canvas, the luminosity, with leaving the canvas as well, and the dark/light and this very rich use of grey and black really sets it all off. But I think it’s the drawing-ness, and it’s near drawing, which is something that gives it its strength, and something to really take on.

Robin Greenwood: I like this painting too, I find that my least favourite bits of it are the unpainted canvas. And, you know, where you started talking about this, how you paint, um, I’m not sure why you’d be hanging on to that, really. Why you’d be hanging on, for dear life, to not filling the teeth of the canvas. I hesitate to say this, because I’m completely agreeing with Tony, but I think this is the most exciting painting that you’ve got, and I’m amazed that it’s as new as that one, you’re doing these two things together.

Patrick Jones: Yeah, that’s probably six months old, but that’s about a week old.

Robin Greenwood: Very different. I think Moby is very confused, particularly at the top. I can’t, just can’t make sense of it. I think there are lots of beautiful bits in it, you know, that, the red on the grey, here, it’s just gorgeous, but… This painting, Flat Screen, you know, there’s no way out of this painting, is there? I mean, you can’t hide behind beautiful bits of paint, like that, because this thing is right in your face, and, and, so what is it? And I just think that, you know, the colour’s good, I like the strength of the thing, I think you could perhaps have done more there, or something. I mean that’s a bit… but, but, like I say, the weakest parts for me are the bare canvas.

Patrick Jones: It’s only, you know, I didn’t want to fill the whole thing up, because otherwise it, it loses the sense of surprise.

Anthony Smart: You don’t have to paint every bit of it… The precedent was set donkeys years ago not to bother.

Sam Cornish: Particularly along the top bit, I think I’m not reading it as canvas, it’s another sort of colour or whatever. The way that white comes in at the top as well…

Hilde Skilton: I think nothing really balances out in the painting except for the bare canvas.

Robin Greenwood: So are you agreeing with me? I think it deadens it, just takes the painting back a bit from where it ought to be.

Anthony Smart: There is a school of thought that thinks that takes it up a notch. I’m surprised it is bare canvas, but then I don’t paint, so I just read this bleed out in here, the upper part, right top corner, I read that bleed out there in to, that, and I didn’t go poking my nose seeing quite how it was done, or… I just thought that was fantastic, in terms, of the whole thing. And so, you know yourself, if you go fiddling around for no reason other than that you should fill it all up, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Hilde Skilton: No, I’m not saying that. But I’m also saying don’t leave it, don’t just leave it, and, in this case, the whole painting is not trying to balance itself out, but the bare canvas is doing that, in this painting. I just think it’s maybe like the left hand top, I don’t think that’s considered, that side, you know, I think maybe both the areas on the top, but at the bottom, yes, and I do like the shape, and I’m, I’m absolutely amazed by this black corner. I mean, whoever would put a black corner in like that?

Anne Smart: The other thing about the empty space is that it, to me it heightens the spontaneity of the painting, in a good way, because I think in Wandering the bare canvas in that emphasises the spontaneity, but it also emphasises the figurative nature of the piece, in itself, so whilst initially Moby could be all sorts of things, visually, you know, you could be looking down on something, or through something, you do lose that. And in this one, the bare canvas always relates to the edge of the image so you’re always drawn in through the canvas, to the sense of, say, a big vase of flowers or something. With this one, the bare canvas I think is crucial, because it’s there, but it doesn’t make the coloured areas an image. And that’s what I like about that. So compare that to Jade, where it’s all over, you’ve got this hookers green and the blue corners , that’s almost like, the green, there, is almost like the bare canvas there, so that’s why I think that bare canvas works on this one, because the bare pieces of canvas works as strongly as the pieces of yellow, or orange, for me.

Anthony Smart: To round off my thoughts on this, this painting, I thought when I first saw it, that it didn’t look finished.

Sam Cornish: Yeah, I think I agree with that.

Hilde Skilton: So does everybody else think that the bare canvas is actually working?

Anne Smart: I think it works

Ben Wiedel- Kaufmann: I think it brings out the colour relations a lot, especially in this left hand side, that pink and yellow and blue.

Sarah Greenwood: I think it also stops isolating the centre, and making the centre another little picture, because it’s stained, and the staining carries through to there, and the staining carries through to there, and then goes through to white, so if these were all filled in, this would become isolated.

Hilde Skilton: I’m just now going to pick on that top left hand corner. What does it do? What’s it doing with the black? What’s it doing with the pink? What’s it doing with the red?

Noela James: I think if it was painted I would want it the same colour. I think the tone, it feels just right.

Patrick Jones: Can I just say that with the stained bits of pink, to soften into the bare canvas, they weren’t under the stain of the original, like they were a conscious move at the end, to integrate that, with a different quality of painting than with the more graphic sort of elements. But I will say that the main problem throughout is that I’m bulking the colour up in all the paintings like mad and there’s three outside, where I’ve really, really increased the colour and I’ve had to change it over and over and over again, and that’s caused tremendous problems, you know, because it seemed like a really good idea to make more colourful and exciting pictures but it actually caused me enormous problems over the winter because you keep having to put on a colour thinking that’s a nice colour and it doesn’t behave the way you expect it to, and it buggers up the rest of the canvas, so you’ve got to change that, and when you change that you’ve got to change the next one, and, you know, it’s a it’s caused me problems… These are all new paintings, but… with the colours really cranked up as much as I could, and I did find them difficult paintings, and I’m not particularly happy with them, but they were worth a try. I mean, I wasn’t happy with those three, but they did highlight the problem of using brighter and brighter colour. It seemed to me I was losing control of something else in the picture which I can’t say is tonality or drawing, but there’s something like that, but I still think it was worth a shot. But I’d just like any sort of response. I found the green painting just kept collapsing on me, and I had to keep brightening the green, and brightening the green and on the edges you can see a lot of newer, brighter green, because, for some reason or other it kept going darker rather than brighter, which you would assume with more colour on it.

Anne Smart: But the thing that’s intriguing me is you keep talking about it as a colour painting and you keep negating the fact that it’s got this incredibly strong composition. So do you think that’s significant to the way the painting’s going, and in fact that the colour could be really fantastic?

Patrick Jones: Yes, the four elements. Yeah, I think the four elements, that series, really, has come to an end now, with the blocks, and I think these are probably the least successful of all the block paintings…

red and green

Red and Green, 2014, 118x184cm, acrylic on canvas.

Robin Greenwood: There’s some great things in Red and Green though. There’s some great things in it. But, but the painting looks completely figurative to me, it’s like four paintings in a field. With shadows… it’s got shadows, on the grass… And the sky on the top right hand corner. Weird stuff happening on that green background…

run (2)

Run, 2014, 70x186cm, acrylic on canvas.

Anthony Smart: Run is a figurative painting as well, kind of similar… You know it starts life as a, as a striped painting… And ends up kind of weird and, you know…

Patrick Jones: No, I was aware of that, I mean in the end that painting, it looked like going down the motorway at sunset, I mean, that sort of, the milky clouds and the whole thing.

Robin Greenwood: Well, that’s not the natural light that you were talking about before…

Anthony Smart: But it has subtlety, and when it first came outside I was quite taken with it. That’s that wacky, three-dimensional thing I don’t understand.

Sarah Greenwood: I’m sort of quite curious as to why you, actually, almost emphasise that, by having the ground all almost all the same colour in Red and Green, so you’ve isolated these four blocks. In Big Blue No Passeran, the ground has started to separate or delineate into different areas. Weren’t you very tempted to actually change the ground halfway across the painting, or…?

Patrick Jones: No, I tried to keep the green ground, I mean, basically because I wanted to try and do an emerald green painting, which is quite difficult to do, and it took me ages to stain that a really nice flat green, but it kept… But I realised I was painting inside the boxes all the time, and so there’s a lot of, you know, there’s conflict in all the work, really.

Anne Smart: You said in Big Blue No Passeran, which is a beautiful blue, you said that that helped to unify the whole thing, and I did get a sense then when you said that, I got a sense of it becoming part of the four bits within it, the four playing cards or whatever they might appear to be, and I got that, got a strong sense of the colour starting to break down this very, strict format; but I don’t here, but I think that’s quite a challenge, and it looks as though that might be what you’re trying to do with it. Because you always talk about colour. Colour, colour, colour, and yet you’re using colour with these strong formats, and, you know, that’s ambitious to try to do that.

colour field (2)

Colour Field, 2014, 114x155cm, acrylic on canvas.

Noela James: I think the four paintings with the ultramarine on are much simpler, aren’t they? In this one, Colour Field, each rectangle is quite different and complex, isn’t it?

Patrick Jones: Yeah. So what about Green Zone?

green zone

Green Zone, 2014, 159x79cm, acrylic on canvas.

Sam Cornish: The rectangle made up of the two green stripes, in the middle of another thing, that… It’s interesting that the interior, I don’t know, it’s stronger than the thing that contains it, and so that, that…

Robin Greenwood: There’s that amazing purple…

Sam Cornish: …that double green stripe, is actually, is the thing that hits the other elements around it, so it kind of breaks out of the format, it’s not that the… That containing rectangle is kind of pushed, pushed back…

Robin Greenwood: Is that green on top of a red?

Patrick Jones: No, the green is with the red over the top. It’s the orange, an orange over the top, which is slightly heavily worked on the edges

Anne Smart: So what you’re saying, Sam, is that double green, the green, is actually coming forward and in terms of those internal frames, within the big frame, often, with the rest of them, they go backwards? They look like they are going in to something, don’t they? There, in the other green one. So that’s sort of bringing again this thing that Patrick always says about colour, but something else, some other consideration is coming through that, and forward of that, which is this sort of spatial quality, yes.

John Bunker: Getting back on the general historical thing for the moment, if I may; out of that stained colour painting kind of tradition, which I associate with what you’ve been talking about, I think that is the tradition involved… Spending a bit of time with Frank Bowling recently, I think one of the things that Frank’s had to deal with over the years is the idea of locking down the paintings in some way. I wonder whether this has become…

Patrick Jones: Can you tell us what that means?

John Bunker: Yeah, I guess it’s to do with format.

Anne Smart: Is it to do with the veiling of the colour, or the wash of the colour, or…?

John Bunker: I think he goes up and down, sometimes he [Bowling] gets it just right, and his way of dealing with that actually, is a collagic way of dealing with it, so…

Robin Greenwood: And the framing…

John Bunker: And the framing. And they become skins, that are moved around over the surface. So he takes beautiful… it’s a way of cropping, basically, and it’s interesting you mentioned cropping at the beginning, and I think that even what Nick Moore was saying about, well, you mentioned it actually, didn’t you? That Nick was operating with a given structure and the painting has to operate in the moment in that given structure, and either it succeeds or it fails. And you moving away from a cropping procedure into a given format, and how stain painting reacts to that, leads me to think that maybe your difficulty is to do with that formatting process. And every time I look at one of your paintings I’m drawn to specific areas; this is something that Sam said; I’m drawn to specific areas where something amazing has just occurred. And then suddenly it drops off, and you’re taken somewhere else and there are these bits in the middle where nothing happens, or it’s a real nasty, and you, as you say, things start layering over, and they become dead, and then they go away, and then we’re let back in to the painting again, and the painting’s moving in to the weave of the canvas, in the most beautiful ways. And I just wonder, whether it’s just a simple format issues, dealing with that kind of painting, in a given structure, that makes it incredibly difficult.

Anthony Smart: If you go back to the time when painters painted striped paintings, of which there is a dose of striped painting in amongst this lot, they already knew what they were going to paint, they’re figurative paintings.

Anne Smart: So what you’re saying is that they’re not starting from nothing?

Anthony Smart: They’re a) not starting from nothing, and they’re b) not letting the painting go its own way. And, and when it all gets a bit boring, as often it does with art, it’s because the thing has got locked down. Frank Bowling is a good example. I know you love Frank, but he’s a good example of somebody who does tend to lean a bit on other people’s formats. So, maybe he is a bit locked down, in his formats, he doesn’t invent them, is what I’m saying.

John Bunker: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Anthony Smart: I think that with the two paintings we first started talking about, I went for the one, and I now know that as Anne was talking about it, I thought, oh bollocks, I’ve picked the wrong bloody horse, this other one is looser, this is freer, and the way the border crossed over and went to become interior, and then came back out as border, now, my one doesn’t do that, my one’s border with interior. Except that bit that waltzes off with the black triangle that Hilde was on about, on the left hand, bottom left hand side. That’s the thing taking over, isn’t it? The painting had taken over and it’s waltzing off somewhere and you don’t know where it’s going but you’re hanging on.

Patrick Jones: I mean, to a horrendous degree they waltz off, you know, that one waltzed off on its own so far that I thought I’ve lost it, it’s completely gone and I had to sit and stare at it for four days to pull it back into the drawing, and, you know, I’m pleased that… But I’m always thinking about that 1982, you know, pouring painting flat on to the floor, because of the cropping. Because the cropping was a way of avoiding what John’s talking about, which is beautiful areas against ugly areas, because you can, you can restructure the picture after it’s made…

Patrick Jones: So that, the horizontal one, was in relation to a discussion Robin and I had about Frankenthaler, after the Turner Contemporary show . And I was trying to do a Frankenthaler to show him that it could be done, and I ran into all sorts of difficulties. I wouldn’t admit that in front of him though. But the vertical one, Green Zone, I’m unhappy at how the picture is locked into that frame. And there’s no air, there’s no air in it. In fact, I ran out of… I ran out of… I couldn’t get a blue that was blue enough, to make it good. The blue, with the triangle on the bottom and the round circle and the little arm that shoots off, um, they were all bare canvas, and then I decided to put the blue on. I couldn’t get the blue strong enough for it to leap out of the background, or contrast the background, so I was running out of air in the picture. Can you see what I mean? You run out of weave, of oxygen… Yeah, that’s right, and once it’s gone…

Robin Greenwood: That’s really weird.

Patrick Jones: Yes, but I was also not in a position to be able to break the format.

Robin Greenwood: Why weren’t you in a position to break the format?

Patrick Jones: I don’t know. Well, it would throw the whole picture up for grabs. In a way that it was narrowing down…

Robin Greenwood: Well, that’s interesting. Isn’t it up for grabs?

Patrick Jones: Well, the more it was coming towards the end of the picture, there was less and less up for grabs, it either had to work or fail. And I think it’s sort of all right, but it’s not, you know… the red and grey I’m happy with, the green I’m happy with…

Robin Greenwood: I like things in that, and there are some terrible things, you know; the blue up the middle, the blue triangle, the blue that failed over the top of the red in the circle, and the sun in the top right hand corner.

Noela James: Could you not paint over them?

Robin Greenwood: Yeah, lose the tooth of the canvas for the sake of the painting

Sarah Greenwood: Yes, that’s what you’re saying, is that you were worried that there wasn’t much more room to put more paint in.

Robin Greenwood: We’re back where we started aren’t we, with your sacrificing the painting for the sake of the canvas.

Patrick Jones: Yes. In order to go the next level up, to get rid of that blue circle, for instance, it would become a thick, circular form.

Noela James: Would that matter? What if you did a whole wash, down right over it, not put any circles in. You could kind of go swoosh, you know, a big thick…

Patrick Jones: No, absolutely.

Noela James: You know, just for a change.

Emyr Williams: There’s two things you seem to have raised, one of them is a sort of, philosophical stance on canvas quality, and the other one is a technical issue, about keeping it alive and animated. I’ll just throw in a quote, and that is a masterpiece must be painted again and again so you avoid chance. I just think on the technical side, I’m absolutely convinced you could get to the sort of quality of sparkle you want in the colour technically by over painting, with the right approach, the right quality paints, and your control of it, which you’ve got. So, I think those two issues that you bring up are maybe red herrings, in a way, and the one that I liked, but Tony thought he’d backed the wrong horse, that had the most spontaneity. And I think that you were putting restraints on yourself at times that don’t need to be there, because I think technically you could face the challenge of all that. And repainting that from scratch.

Robin Greenwood: And being spontaneous again,

Emyr Williams: Exactly. You could do it again and, I don’t see why you couldn’t do that. And also the format thing; find a format, rather than worrying about fitting to a format. Maybe, you know, what you’re trying to do is to give yourself a chance to use your colour. And I think that anything that gets in the way of using the colour is going to be your enemy in a way, so you need to kind of get rid of it. Whether it’s a philosophical point or a technical point, you’ve got to get rid of those restraints. You can paint. So, anything that’s stopping you is something you need to abandon, really.

near and far

Near and Far, 2010-14, 170x210cm, acrylic on canvas.

Ben Wiedel-Kaufmann: This one, Near and Far, am I right in thinking you feel the weave there, on the very right hand side, there is a skein of paint in the detail.

Patrick Jones: Yeah. That was taken from a discussion about the horizon line, I think. Which you’re bound to start with. But it also is a figurative painting, to a certain extent; it has moons and suns and horizons, you know, it has quite clear associations which I put into the picture deliberately. I’d moved to a new place to live, that overlooked the sea, and I was quite fascinated by what I was looking at, so I did try and put things in that were from nature.

Emyr Williams: Is that painted on metallic paint. You put an underpainting of metallic on?

Patrick Jones: No, I sometimes use silver paint…

Emyr Williams: As soon as you do that, there’s your canvas weave gone, isn’t it? I mean…

Patrick Jones: Yes it is, yes it is, yes. But in a nice way. Because it gives you another surface.

Emyr Williams: So you could silver… you know what I mean? And you could do this… How many times in your career have you done things like that? So you could do it, like that, couldn’t you? You could do it again and again, and then you could remove things that you found problematical on the second go. You know, um… I think it’s a red herring, the canvas thing, because I think you can get freshness…

Hilde Skilton: But you know, I’ve not painted in acrylic in this way, but what I find with oil painting is if you do paint something out, the quality, the way the paint behaves, and the colour, just is different. And one of Patrick’s strengths, very much, is the translucency he’s getting with his colours. They just shine. So if you start doing that. So, I, I don’t know what the solution is.

Robin Greenwood: But wouldn’t they shine, as much, if not more, on top of a coat of white paint?

Hilde Skilton: No. Well, sorry, I’m talking from an experience of painting in oils. I don’t know about acrylic. Patrick, would they?

Robin Greenwood: Well, you don’t paint oils onto bare canvas, do you?

Patrick Jones: I could take Emyr’s point that if a masterpiece doesn’t need loads and loads and loads of layers, and application, and thinking about, then it would be useful to be able to just put something over the areas that aren’t working, which could be silver, could be white, could be a wash, could be granular, could be something which you want to paint on top of, if you like, but it does change the surface…

Robin Greenwood: But standing here, we wouldn’t be able to tell, would we?

Patrick Jones: No. As long as it, as long as it functioned, it would be…

Anthony Smart: Exactly.

Patrick Jones: A lot of cheap canvases have, you know, have terrible white primer over the top of them, and you can get a luminosity off it but, to me they lose an enormous quality which, once the canvas gets to that shine, to me it’s dead. It’s got a sort of deadness about it, and the idea in these paintings was to keep the surface lively by having a lot of variety in the…

Noela James: It’s the way the paint seeps into the canvas. There’s a different quality than if you’d primed it, it wouldn’t do that, would it?

Patrick Jones: I’m absolutely fascinated by what you’ve all had to say, and I’ll give it a lot of thought. I mean, there is inevitably, a lot of tension when I’m painting, I feel under tremendous tension, which we all do when we’re working, to resolve things, and pull them together, and also try and put in new elements. And, it’ll take a while before I can pick out, you know, what’s the most important piece of advice I’ve had this afternoon.

John Bunker: So we’re back to Flat Screen, yes? Emyr talked about there being a robustness to this piece, am I right, in suggesting that? A robust presence about it. And I wonder whether it’s got something to do with line, and just use of the black line, again, it’s just a bit of an added thesis to an approach to painting in a tradition you might come out from, you know. And is there anything else to be said about that?

Patrick Jones: I think it only just dawned on me that you could use the line at the end of the picture and not just at the beginning, because normally at the beginning it’s a drawing, where the colour might go, but to use the line as an expressive element at the end of the painting, I just didn’t realise. I started to realise I could just use a line right across the canvas at the very end of the painting, sort of, and so make the drawing more important, if that makes any sense.

Nick Moore: It’s the sort of thing that Alan Davie might do, or ? Even, you know, using the line, actually, as a very positive element.

Anthony Smart: For me, Flat Screen, as soon as it was explained to me, turns out the thing that we’re talking about this thing, what has just been said, you can’t escape the fact that there is a circuit delineated in there. Whereas this one,Moby, I think, I think what I really, really think is fantastic about this is how, what is on the outside of the frame, where the frame comes in, it’s into a sequence of shapes, and ends up on the other side, and then up here, comes down from the frame into the body of the thing, and then edges its way, and ends up part of, the frame, on the outside again. That is a distortion, which this one tends probably to, that, I mean there’s something very odd going on here, and it’s one of the great things, this stops here, and it stops and comes out of the painting, probably carried by this, out of the painting. So this space is allowed to move backwards and forwards here, left hand side of this painting, and back, the thing is actually physically moving from one side, through the middle, and out on to the side, sort of, in that kind of…

Anne Smart: I think the interesting thing you’re saying, is that you’re picking up on these two paintings, initially they look very different, but what actually are they? They’re about very similar things. One’s long and thin, one’s more landscape but they still, are approaching the same difficulties, and they’re doing it in different ways, but they’re both successful in a way. But it just proves how that one is more of a sort of graphic image, and this is much more painterly. But you can attack these issues in different ways, and you can get to the same conclusion.

Anthony Smart: But, going back to where the conversation for me got rather bogged down, this painting in the group, is the format that suddenly starts to have a life of its own and break its own… so, so you started with the format but you were bold enough to let it go its own way. You, also with that one, and, possibly, and I don’t know, the jury’s out, nobody’s jumping forward to…

Anne Smart: Most people seem to think that this is a much more traditional, ‘seen it all before’, painting.

Robin Greenwood: I just think it’s more confused. I don’t get what Tony is talking about, really, with the frame coming in, I don’t feel that.

Anne Smart: I think it’s much more of a painting of physical interaction with the paint…

Anthony Smart: And invention?

Anne Smart: And, yes. Whereas this one relies on the devices that Patrick knows about, and he’s doing them in a different way, so that makes it captivating. But that is a more ‘out there’ painting. Even though it doesn’t look like it, in my opinion. Well, this is a really interesting point. Because it is originally quite conventional looking. I think that that is a point that is something that we’ve come across quite a lot in the Chronicles. You know, you think you understand something, you dismiss it because you think you’ve seen it before.

Noela James: But knowing Patrick’s other work, seeing that, it does look like a departure, doesn’t it, from his graphic format?

Sam Cornish: But, it’s going back to the very early one, the really vertical one. In the distribution of patches, you know, kind of… The 1983 one.

Patrick Jones: Nothing like it, in terms of appearance; but on the other hand, in terms of weight distribution, yes…

Sam Cornish: Yes, in a way, although it has this kind of broken, graphic thing, which I sort of liked before. It does have this certain type of distribution of colour, which is the thing that breaks it up, so I don’t think it is quite as…

Noela James: There is a relationship between the very early one, and it looks like Patrick’s come full circle but arrived at a different place with Moby. But there’s a definite connection. It’s like Sam said.

Ben Wiedel-Kaufmann: Yeah, I was just wondering, in terms of the progression were looking at here, over the last two years, I mean we’ve started with those four-piece formats, and then I was wondering whether this is a breakdown of the format in five and eight, and now if this frame, interior frame thing, is working towards a new format, if that’s something that happens progressively, if Patrick finds himself finding formats and then feeling that’s a confident place to start from. Or not. But in these two, effectively, five and eight, are deconstructive. I mean, it’s trying not to work with a format, or…

Robin Greenwood: Is this not a format?

Noela James: That’s got a frame as well really, hasn’t it… the light areas…

Sam Cornish: It’s a format, it’s just not a graphic one.

Robin Greenwood: Mmm. Exactly.

Sam Cornish: It’s a format in that the marks move in a particular way within the rectangle, and they loop, kind of…

Robin Greenwood: The only way you can say that these two are similar is that the format’s similar. Everything else is different. So do you keep reverting to formats that you know about?

Anne Smart: Tell the truth!

Noela James: Well look at this…Those angles here, and then the angle here, it does kind of, there are echoes which I think are very fascinating, actually. I think they are many, many years apart, aren’t they? But there’s more, obviously more complexity in them…

Robin Greenwood: The new paintings are by far the best paintings.

Patrick Jones: Oh, good, thank you. That’s a nice thing to hear, thank you. Yeah, I think every artist, I’m sure, wants to find a way to paint. I’ve often thought, you know, just find the right way to paint; I could do fifty of them, you know, sell them all… And it’s never happened.

[Laughter]

Anne Smart: Shall we stop there Patrick? Thank you.

29 comments
  1. I found the conversation about light very interesting.

    “Hilde Skilton: But there’s light which you get through colour and then there’s light like a sunbeam, and…

    Anne Smart: I think the light you get through colour, this is an abstract thing; the light that you get from a sunbeam has got to have a figurative context, hasn’t it? In a sense, it comes from a particular source.

    Patrick Jones: I think I’m talking about sunbeam light there then, probably.

    Hilde Skilton: So it is a figurative thing?”

    There are things I really like about “Red and Green”, but it is too figurative. But it brings up a big conundrum and it’s one I’ve been experiencing in my own work. Does a painting cease to be abstract and fall back into figuration as soon as you put an external light source in? Yes, it probably does. But then again, I can’t help but feel that using light and modelling to make space, beyond that which is created by juxtapositions of colour, could play an important part in whatever comes next for abstract painting. Perhaps we just need to find more challenging, unpredictable ways of using external light than say the shadows cast over the green field. Because there’s something about those shadows that I find visually appealing, even if it is revisiting known figurative ground.
    I think we should be careful about laying down rules about what is or isn’t abstract (not that we shouldn’t either, it can be helpful), because to me, abstract implies some sort of unknown. Maybe what comes next could incorporate external light, if it were used in a highly sophisticated way. In the way it is currently used, it tends to make painting figurative.
    Anyway, a double edged sword, because I think that whilst the idea of a light and space that comes from the colours is not necessarily going to be figurative, there may be a point where it becomes just as familiar.

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  2. Jock Ireland said:

    Went to a talk by Briony Fer at the Morgan Library earlier tonight. She talks funny—the way you all do—though, as far as I know, she didn’t say, “Bollocks.” She talked about drawing and abstraction, about Malevich and Rienhardt and Kelly and Ruscha. I fell asleep for about ten minutes in the middle of her talk. Apparently I missed a bit where she brought in Walt Disney. I did hear her say a lot about “framing”—about those tiny drawings of Malevich’s “framed” by four pencil lines.

    Anyway I’m quite annoyed I was asleep when she talked about Disney. I see quite a bit of Walt in Patrick’s work. It’s fun to think about what she said about “framing” and what you all say about it here. A really, really great discussion. Didn’t fall asleep reading it! Off to bed now. . .

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  3. Thanks Harry,for the comments about light.As you can see Im trying to move the work forward and I guess no holds are barred.The urge toward greater spatiality has been discussed here and at Abcrit[abstract critical] as a prerequisite for a new Abstraction .I remain in a position of permanent questioning .I do particularly like John Bunkers note about atonal music.However altho I like the discussion and points that are raised ,Im still a long way from doing the new work I envision. Best Patrick

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    • Glad to hear, Patrick. All the very best with your paintings. I very much hope that you maintain your preparedness to dip into a few of the elements we associate with figuration, because I think that there could be a lot to gain should you continue to push them into being something quite challenging. I have no idea what that might look like, but that’s the whole point I suppose. I sincerely hope that whatever it is will amount to being more than a fusion of figurative and abstract. Perhaps it will force us to reconsider our usage of the word abstract. It might yet prove to be a word that is only sufficient for describing painting that is planar and emits its own light (and is obviously non-representational). Or is it too late to come up with a word that means something is more abstract than abstract? I certainly hope it’s not too late for painting.

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  4. Mark Skilton said:

    Are these abstract paintings? There are so many figurative elements in the paintings; shadows, light,perspective drawing and drawing with lines moving from in front to behind other objects. Also the rectangles in the paintings function like objects. So Patrick, how is this abstract? Despite all of this I enjoy looking at them. Is this a fusion of abstract and figurative, where the figurative elements are not supposed to be picked up on as such? When I first saw these paintings, I was not aware of the figurative elements, I was more aware of the colour which I find lovely and luminous. Now that I have seen this I cannot not see it and I find this quite disturbing, especially in Jade.

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  5. Mark Skilton said:

    Sorry, that comment was sent by Hilde.

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  6. It’s an interesting debate, this, about what is abstract painting and what is not, and this particular Brancaster seems to make it a little less esoteric than usual, perhaps because Patrick is so upfront and unembarrassed about his inclusion of figurative elements. We have touched upon the ambition to make painting “more abstract” in quite a few previous talks (Hilde’s and Anne’s spring to mind) without quite addressing it so frontally as we do here.

    But whilst I agree with that ambition of “more abstract”, I am much more ambivalent about the idea that certain things that could be done in figurative painting cannot now be done in abstract painting, and that by so restricting the scope of abstract painting it will inevitably come to fulfil that ambition of “more abstract”. That seems a rather constraining way of thinking about possibilities, and I would prefer an approach that attempted to do at least as much as figurative painting, even at the risk of failure. It seems to me, in Patrick’s case, that the work is not taken quite far enough to do either – to fully fail or succeed – and that there is a hesitancy to leave behind some known territory of previous abstract art from the past – an aesthetic, if you will, in which the elements of his work will sit quite happily – and so allow those elements and colours (that Patrick so explicitly delights in) to really take over and go somewhere new. (And, yes, I do realise how easy it is to say this, and how hard it is to do it)

    I think this is a nitty-gritty issue with the nature and quality of the physical content of the work, and how very specifically things in a painting relate to each other, materially, spatially and imaginatively. And I sometimes think that the business of trying pre-emptively to achieve a ‘whole’ thing, which is another topic we have discussed many times, is at this point possibly too much of a distraction from that issue of content.

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  7. I am not too worried about Patrick….in fact I”m backing him particularly with “Flat Screen”
    No one has mentioned “feeling”….
    I don’t care if some of his paintings are a bit figurative.
    Surely we all set ourselves constraints. I always “set off” determined not to be figurative but it doesn’t always work. It seems that Patrick does not worry about that but more about not cropping or not filling up the warp and weft with too much paint….thats great ..
    To me “Flat Screen’ has been the most long lasting of the paintings we saw…..at the time it reminded me of Matisse’s “The Windshield” 1917…. and of some of my own holiday photographs ……both of these obviously figurative
    …but now looking at it again….I think he has achieved , in “Flat Screen”…a sort of weird space…a “FEELING”of space which I think is ABSTRACT
    I think it has something to do with the light source..it could be the colour.. it could be it looks spontaneous and relaxed ..I don’t know….but I get it………

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  8. In relation to Hildes comment ,I have to say in my own defence that the figuration[shadows etc ]are excaserbated by digital photography.Cameras are our way to communicate and dont do justice to the tension between the physicality of the paint and the apparent image.I have no interest in figuration ,altho I am in love with the natural world and cant conceive of Painting without it.Thanks to Anne for mentioning feeling ,which is closer to the mark

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    • And yet, as Hans Hofmann said; “Ah, but if you work by heart, you will repeat yourself.”

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  9. Jock Ireland said:

    “”Here,” [Pasternak] said, “some of you with great conviction distinguished good verses from bad as if they were correctly or incorrectly turned machine parts . . . and I became convinced once again that, generally speaking, verses, good or bad, do not exist, but that there are only good or bad poets, that is, whole systems of thought which are either productive or which spin in the void.””

    From the 1936 plenum of the Soviet Writers’ Union. Relevant? Maybe—probably not really. But it kind of asks the question: is “more abstract” a “system of thought”? Is “more abstract” productive just because “abstract” means something different for everybody?

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  10. It always comes down to terms of reference.Figuration to me means pertaining to the human figure.I have never used them because you instantly change the painting to an illusory narrative.I like the idea that the more Abstract the better,both in form or content.Wanting colour to take the brunt of both caused some problems and the paintings became less abstract ,as tho colour ,the end game for most painters ,mitigates against it.

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  11. Mark Skilton said:

    The terms abstract/figurative are misleading in that they are polar positions. The issue is representation. If an image is representative then it is not abstract, but converging lines, or shapes that can be interpreted can be abstract if they do not represent a known object or state.

    Hilde said
    I have been working with the translucency of colour/paint and understand when you talk about the physicality of paint. I see this in your painting, translucency and opaqueness sensitively done to great spatial effect.

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  12. Yes, it is interesting how your work seems to look more ‘abstracted’ rather than abstract on screen, it’s as if there is a more 3D effect. I still find ‘Wandering’ and ‘Moby’ compelling departures from your more ‘graphic’ work. Whilst I really enjoy your colour palette the arrangement in ‘Flat Screen’ leaves me feeling a little trapped within it’s form, whereas ‘Wandering’ and ‘Moby’ have looser forms and layering which I find very satisfying. It was an extremely enjoyable day discussing your work and Nick Moore’s in his studio, many thanks.

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  13. Whilst I am sure we don’t all mean the same when we speak about ‘abstract’ or ‘space’ and ‘spatiality’ one of the attributes that an abstract painting (and sculpture?) can have, over figuration/representation, is an ambiguity of spatial relations across the work.

    If a painting has a recognisable ‘external’ subject you will be doing ‘naturalistic/realistic’ things with space (involving realistic depth and perspective). Abstraction can, but doesn’t have to, involve a complexity of contradictory spatial relationships that can give the work its quality and value. This may be part of a ‘complexity with variety’ approach.

    When we look at this our eye (and intellect and emotions) will have some real complex stuff to engage with; a metaphor of a varied, stimulating ‘journey’ through a work makes sense here.

    In contrast when there is little spatial stuff going on or little complexity or variety the journey, for me, is far less interesting (empty, barren). In fact the journey will need lots of theoretical, historical, conceptual, biographical, etc (‘outside’ ‘stuff’) to prop up its lack of visuality.

    A painting needs to ‘stand out’ from its surrounding space for it to have its own integrity and value. If it doesn’t it doesn’t work very well and your surrounding space becomes part of the art, which can’t be right (although a possibility for you curators and conceptualists out there!).

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    • Ambiguity in art is, in my opinion, always negative and destructive of content. But the fact that something can do more than a single thing is a positive. For example, my left arm can flex, or it can extend; it can also rotate; it can actually do many things, some of them at the same time. But it is hardly ambiguous! Despite it’s multiple talents, my left arm is an unambiguous fact. My right arm is even more talented.

      At the moment, I can see no advantages that abstract painting has over figurative painting.

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    • I forgot to say that although I didn’t get to Patrick’s Brancaster the painting I would like to see most, from the images here, would be ‘Flat Screen’. There looks to be something quite unusual going on here.

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  14. The only advantage would have to relate to the absence of recognizable ‘outside’ subject matter. Are you saying that a representational work has advantageous directly related to its representational nature? (say via your definition of space?).

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  15. Figurative/representational painting has the potential to manipulate the viewer’s response, be it creating a sense of place, psychological drama or domestic intimacy etc. Abstract painting hopefully reaches parts of the brain that can just respond visually, and the stimulation and thrill created would depend on personal preferences, be they concerned with geometry, gesture or a mixture of both etc. Sounds a bit simplistic, I know, but the struggle is to make good work and to recognise it, if and when it happens (with the help of good critics of course).

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  16. I think the lack of subject matter could or should be an advantage of abstract painting but it seems to remain something of a distraction. I recently did a painting that I was sure didn’t resemble anything figurative. Someone was kind enough to buy it, but later told me it was because she could see horses frolicking throughout it. Of course I was somewhat disappointed, largely at myself for having left room for that kind of interpretation, very subjective though it proved to be.
    But it means that there is a problem in looking at something without subject, at least for the uninitiated, and it is a constant distraction from engaging with real visual content.
    Perhaps I should just cave in and make equine art. People who like horses tend to have money.
    But really, I think it comes back to the question of ambiguity and specificity. Figurative art is so specific, so there is less temptation to get distracted by trying to identify a subject, because it announces itself immediately and then you move on to thinking about what the forms are doing. I think if forms in abstract painting became more definite, there might be less room to try and conjure up some sort of likeness. But from what I can tell, a painting that does that will have more in common with figurative painting than abstract. So if all the promising routes in painting seem to lead back to figuration (in a spatial sense), it is worth pondering whether abstract has any advantages. I still think it’s worth trying to find some advantages, but for the sake of painting, not for the sake of abstract.

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    • LOL! But I think you are wrong. Figurative painting on the whole is no less ambiguous or more specific than abstract painting when you look at a whole range of work across all levels of achievement. Can you, for example, have ambiguous paintings of horses? Of course. So becoming an equine painter wouldn’t make you necessarily any more specific.

      In the recent and wonderful Rubens exhibition at the RA were quite a number of ambiguous figurative paintings, mostly by other painters, and shown up by Rubens; but a few even by Rubens himself. If you trawl the sales of “Old Masters” or “Impressionism” at Christie’s or Sotheby’s you will find ambiguity without end, and only the occasional triumph of emotionally cogent and specific content, which can occur regardless of subject matter.

      Hang on in there – we are in early days and perhaps too close to what we do…

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  17. Thanks for clearing that up. I don’t think I intended to make a generalisation that figurative painting is without ambiguity and that abstract will be full of it, but I now see that is what I did. I certainly don’t think subject matter is at all necessary to achieve specific content. Perhaps I confused subject with content, because I don’t really see trees or horses for that matter as being a subject necessarily, but as a specific form that can be visually compelling and crucial, depending on how it works in the painting. In abstract painting, I think there can be a tendency to settle too soon for somewhat accidental occurrences, often at the expense of a more deliberate, functional form. Many abstract paintings have forms that do specific things, but there just seem to be more restrictions on what those forms can do, or how many things they can do. I think we should test those limitations.

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  18. The limitations of form and the consequent limitations of visual function that abstract art has so far manifested are possibly due to the fear by artists of working outside of and beyond the forms and shapes that are seen and accepted by themselves as safely abstract or non-objective and also perceived as such by others. The exciting dimension to making abstract art is that it is an expanding entity, yes, at times like a direction-less fog of unrelated matter, ideas and potential but this soup of uncertainty with its risky ingredients is the thing to dine on.

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  19. Jock Ireland said:

    The comments keep coming. Maybe nothing for the Evening News, but very interesting to me.

    I’m impressed with Robin’s arms: very talented! As an Abstract Sculptor he may not be aware that not only can his arms flex and extend, and rotate (medially and laterally)—they can also abduct and adduct! But that’s all they can do. There are only 3 dimensions in the world (kind of).

    Terry brings in/up the word “limitations.” He throws it out quickly though. I think many people think of figurative art as somehow limited—and abstract art as somehow limitless. Harry wants to “test” some limitations. Robin is wary of associating limits of any kind with abstract art.

    All that’s fine. I’m maybe kind of vaguely uncomfortable with Terry’s “directionless fog of unrelated matter, ideas and potential”—but I’m kind of vaguely excited by it too. The one “new”/”specific” thought/word that occurs to me now is “synthesis.”

    When Robin talks about the “occasional triumph of emotionally cogent and specific content” in the Rubens show, I think he’s talking about a synthesis of some kind. I can’t find Robin’s great definition of content right now, but I’m kind of thinking of “content” as another word for “synthesis.” When Robin talks about Patrick not taking things far enough, I’m thinking “synthesis” again: it’s not enough for elements of Patrick’s work simply to sit together quite happily.

    You can put something up above something else—or down below—to the left or to the right—closer to or further away from. Those are your choices. They’re limited. Maybe a real “synthesis” makes something—something “new”?—out of those limitations. Or is the three-dimensional world just the material world? Maybe painting and sculpture involve a “synthesis” of material dimensions with (limitless?) spiritual dimensions. That is what Jock is “thinking” on May 24, 2015. . . .

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    • A quick response to that; it’s not just about positioning (which is perhaps what a lot of aesthetics-based abstract art has relied upon) but also it’s to do with how one thing is seen to affect another thing, and how those two things might integrate into one thing because of that relationship – become that relationship and stop being ‘things’, so to speak. Then, how that relationship relates to the next thing, and so on. So it might be about trying to organise a whole set of active and affecting relationships into one big thing/relationship/content/form/synthesis/whatever. I see no need to bring in a ‘spiritual’ dimension; it’s a cop-out, and it only muddlies the water in something that is already very difficult. And yes, I have done anatomy, which can tell you a lot about the inter-relatedness of parts.

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  20. I agree with all the first bit Robin. Separate elements can look pretty crap on their own but come alive within their context, situation even. Lovely bits can look dead, out of sorts, within the relational whole. This way of thinking may illustrate why repetitive shapes, patterns, colours, etc, can fail to engage or stimulate us, at least for very long. But why should the inter-relatedness of anatomy tell us anything useful about the way art objects hang together visually? Isn’t anatomy physical, that is biologically, and not visually, functional?

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  21. Thanks for the comments,which relate to thoughts I had in the studio.Its still a lonely if wonderfull space,where choices and decisions,or rather enthusiasms are replayed.I am very interested in the cutting edge of Abstraction,not remotely in Figuration .Yet I get so gobsmacked by visual perception while driving to work,I sure it lingers in the memory /image bank,just like the Cezannes of LEstaque.I like a good degree of UMPH in a painting,but celebrate ambiguity at all levels.I miss museum shows living in the sticks, as Greenberg said of Louis,so Id know what not to paint.But its an experiment as well ,to take the phone off the hook and put up the gone fishing sign,plumbing the depths of taste and invention,waiting for occasional inspiration,living off euphoria

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  22. Marion said:

    Patrick , I have just seen this and I love the dicussion ! Still painting marion Miller Exeter x

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