Brancaster Chronicles No. 81: Emyr Williams Paintings and Drawings
I start with size and shape. This vertical rectangle has pre-occupied me for a while, as has working on pre-stretched canvas, now. I make some large-scale decisions about line and area right from the off, which will be highly disruptive forces. I work the painting a great deal: removing, re-stating or adjusting surfaces or saturations and finding new possibilities over time —continually painting out and in and often moving things until I find something that opens up the space. I am acutely aware of the dimensions and finding the line or colour expanse in proportion to that. The paintings are made spontaneously without being contingent – this is important to me; everything is done to make the colour work hard. I am continually looking at the transitions and the work unfolds and reveals itself very slowly. Sometimes the finest of adjustments can have the most significant of results.
The drawings are made on paper or canvas, ranging from 2ft to 9 ½ft in height, using a shellac-based Indian ink. The canvas works have a layer of buff acrylic applied first, to accept the ink in an even way. I made a willful decision to avoid atmospheric washes and have developed a range of character marks to build space and contrast. I see them as very democratic – every single decision is available to the eye. I can rework them with sort of fresco technique — painting out and laying in a fresh spread of matte paint before re-applying the ink.
Provoking paintings and drawings.
its good to read Emyr’s considered insight via his statement.
I always thought that Abstract art should speak for itself . I still do but there is a “winging it with experience” appeal to what he says which transfers to what it is actually like when you are actually “making it”. And…it is so clearly his honest analysis of what he is up to …and so important for me to remind myself that honesty is “readable” in the art itself. Emyr does transfer that elusive characteristic to his work.
he says….”continually painting out and moving things until I find something that opens up the space’……Looking at
‘Back and First’ i do feel that happens.With a first look I did not grasp those shifts. I had not thought it possible that a length of colour could achieve the same dynamic as a passage or saturated area of paint. The ‘black’ disturbs.It makes me focus back to the surface, but heck, it, [ the ‘black’] is not all in the same plane. The oranges , the varieties of blue ,the different densities of pinks all shift, pulse and perform their group meanings in defiance of my first opinions.
Well I’m sure I will keep thinking new thoughts about these….
Emyr says of his drawings he can rework them with a ‘fresco’ technique….I like that and see it in the paintings too.
Depth is hard won here. Both spatially and intellectually. I wonder if that “fresco’ way of working is contributing ?…
Often I see a complacent reliance on a narrative or history of the ‘making’ of an abstract piece….left alone for all to admire!!!.
it is so interesting to realise that here in these works, that real and intense working of the materials seems in tandem with the confidence of knowing there will be a resolution…I think?….
Thank you Anne. Yes, better to show than tell. I am interested in getting a huge bag of facts together to release the fiction and not the other way around: hue, saturation, tonality, are all qualities to manage (if you choose to do so), plus the facture, so the opacity of the paint is becoming much more important for me to control – alongside all the rest of it. I am finding that even the softest of forces can be potentially significant.
Hi Emyr. With the paintings, you talk about engaging with the whole of the canvas right from the start. The black painted lines appear to do just that, and in so doing, change the surface tension of the canvas, creating taught and open areas.
Hi Hilde. That change of tension is something that will happen (though I am trying to get that to work summatively together and not in sections) There is an inherent pigment quality in each paint colour: each having its hue and tonality; saturation can be tempered and the facture controlled – these elements are forces to deal with. The extent of the colour is an issue of scale. This is relative to the size and shape of the support. These are ‘facts’. I can see how lateral colour can be controlled but I am more interested now in a multi-faceted potential for the forces. There is a show of Noland’s “Flares” on in Pace gallery. The colour has a uniformity (not necessarily a flatness as he makes them breathe with nuances). The expressiveness comes from their relative shapes and their limits – other strips of colour in the form of plexi adding accents which alter one’s perception of the area (I can see an accord with Tim’s sculptures and the cut – and sanded- edges, the laminations and scale changes) In Noland’s work the edge and shape is very important but nothing really disturbs the uniformity of the area. Tim asks Mark about reducing the size to release the space in some way. I had already asked could other smaller flat to flat sections be used? Sculptures can do this – paintings thus become relief work and once that plane is broken, every other part of the painting looks confused as if to ask what about me?
Hi Emyr, your paintings look very spontaneous and immediate and seem to belie the fact that you are constantly reworking them. The movement and fluidity is consistent across the canvas which creates a fresh, dynamic vision.
Tremendous dexterity and rigorous thinking in the drawings. I prefer it when the black looping lines have to compete more fairly and squarely with other elements. I feel that the coiling black lines dominate the paintings. When it works well colour is heightened as it resists enclosure in the lasso line (‘Steady The Buffs’) and indeed opens the painting up. But what would happen if the ‘democratic’ impulse was followed through/intensified in the paintings too?
Thank you John, I’m working on that – democracy takes time! The black is actually a little softer in the flesh (as the photo seems to register on the contrast) but I take your point – the challenge is a full integration of diverse elements. Steady the buffs (2020) has lines which exit and I would like to get more out of the edges so have been looking to take the line further back in – transparency also plays a role. Colour can be scary, too
Yes, the assurance and coherence of the BW’s is missing in the paintings, maybe carry the mark making over?
I have tried that in some watercolours to toe the water but it ended up looking in a way that I thought it would. The marks of the inks were arrived at over a few years in response to the avoidance of washes; the fluidity of the ink and its depth of tone were the motivating factors. With paint, it’s a different animal – as you point out, my challenge is to match the “coherence”. I am chasing this now but on the painting’s terms rather than incorporating the vernacular of the inks. John suggests having to get the colour up more to counteract the lines. I share this ambition but its not easy. Colour can unnerve you. I am on it, though as I can see how the lines can compartmentalise spaces and I’m trying to get beyond that and looking at various things to deal with it. However, getting linear qualities and invention in to my painting has been important to extend things and place greater demands upon my ‘drawing’. Nice to get your take Saul, really appreciated.
You’re welcome Emyr.
On my drunken rampage around the internet last night, which i have been trying to rectify all day – rather like the studio most mornings – i came upon Bunker’s comment about the ‘democratic impulse being followed through’.
I took this to mean, a clear decision being made, rather than presenting a work in progress, it’s a work complete for this moment.
I prefer the BW’s in this Brancaster to the paintings, they have a vitality and vigour, a fuerza that the paintings lack. There is a sort of hedging of bets in the paintings, they are on their way somewhere but not there yet. The BW’s, on the other hand, state their case unequivocally. ‘This is what i am’.
Having said all that, i am looking at a computer screen, not a painting, so i reserve the right to take all this back when and if i get them in the flesh! 🙂
I can see how that would be so. I agree there is a lot more that needs to be done with colour so you are tuning in to that. I enjoyed that huge Picasso show at the RA last year and envied the fact that he worked in so many different ways (all united by his figurative subject matter) – the freedom of it all. I have wondered if an abstract artist can do this; move around diverse ways of making abstract art. These inks were one way of exploring a different territory but a connected one. John raises a very interesting point on Tim’s thread and as he is a superb communicator I can sense a subtle subtext to his point with which I concur. I can imagine we are all in the centre of a circle with a multitude of radii coming outwards, each one a different human activity – some very close to each other in character – others very different. To think and work in the abstract is also to be able to connect with these radii and see their significance and relation to our own radius of activity. What seems new is simply another radii – how far it extends is a moot point – as you infer, Saul, I need to make mine go further to get the paintings to a point of accordance with the inks. On John’s issue of an audience, in my opinion, it is not enough to say that one art form is operating in more rarified air and the critical mass of people interested in art don’t get it. People are more sensitive than they are given credit for – it comes down to context and language not perception and feeling. The question is always how far down any particular radii have we travelled – other art forms may be doing more on their radii (I need to up my colour game for example). Here’s a link (you’ll have to copy and paste) with 2 people who have gone inspirationally far down their own “radius”. When I put a colour into painting I consider the amount of options it can have. Look what these guys do with a single pool shot… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVvRoq-i2aI&t=19s
Should read “radial” not “radius” – better not put limits on things…
Joyful , vibrant happy paintings full of movement and life .
These works are tremendous, I enjoy the use of colour in the paintings and perhaps I view the colour areas as equivalents to the more formal decisions in the drawings. I have been thinking about your works in a similar vein to John Bunker. (John got there first and said it far more eloquently than I could have – Thanks John. I enjoyed your comment).
So, now I have been thinking about something you wrote in your statement which perhaps we could expand upon here….
“The paintings are made spontaneously without being contingent”
I feel being spontaneous and not being contingent can’t occur or are there degrees in which these two things can meet on the canvas?
Thank you Steven – much appreciated. Being able to paint out and paint in is an approach which speaks to my sensibilities. Matisse is the great precursor and his adopting of Courbet’s maxim, “a masterpiece must be painted more than once”. The moment between the decision and the applying is elastic in time. I enjoy stepping into that moment and stretching it. I have trained myself to be a patient painter. I have no idea what the paintings will look like, but the painting slaps me in the face with a glove as soon as I start. I am always looking intently at colour in all its manifestations and I will look for pressures as the colour unfolds and I just keep going.
The drawings are very tactile up close. The banality of a spot of ink made me smile. That was a Eureka moment.
Its so easy to get lost in semantics isn’t it? Spontaneity, contingency, improvisation, extemporising, happy accidents, mucking about- the list goes on… These are words/phrases that constantly reoccur when I think about process. Its fascinating to read contributors’ efforts to pin point their own connections to Emyr’s work. You can make lots of analogies to other art forms in which improvisation is used in a generative way to push the material in new directions as with the body in dance or a score in music. But these art forms are temporal and overtly performative in nature and more than likely to involve several individuals. Improvs tend thus to take the form of games and puzzles which take apart patterns of behaviour that have been taken for granted by a group working together.
How improvisation works in abstract pàinting seems to be about relationships developed between individual artists and the mediums they work with and sharing their findings with others. Emyr has an in-depth almost encyclopaedic knowledge of what different mediums have to offer. Spontaneity from this perspective suggests to me dexterity, openess to change, innovation, initiative- all of which Emyr has in lorry loads… I like this assertion “a masterpiece must be painted more than once” because it asks questions about the role of spontaneity and chance in making paintings. The notion that spontaneity (or complexity for its own sake for that matter) guarantees originality or deeper insights of some kind begs cross-examination. I think insights are gained through working, by testing what is already known against new propositions, the questions which arise in the act of making- those ‘what if’ moments that can be savoured by the “patient painter”.
i think it could be that in Emyr’s work
..the painting is drawing IN space
…the drawing is drawing ON space
Incidentally Emyr – Am I right in saying (I am only a naive sculptor) that in your work as shown there is a huge difference between the drawing in the drawings and the drawing in the paintings. In the former it leads to merely graphic flatness and pattern; in the latter it actually creates space, depth and atmosphere ? You will have gathered that I find the latter far, far superior !
THIS FROM TIM
transferred from his Chronicle as he posted it there by mistake …..
Hi Tim, I have called them drawings but really they are ink on canvas as opposed to acrylic on canvas – a different material has compelled a different response (over time) – much like steel v ply. For myself, the drawing is the making and the colour is the seeing. I am not comfortable with the word graphic when a line is present. The subtext for me is to avoid making paintings that are behind you when you look at sculpture…
Following on in response to Tim re Drawing in painting and drawing …Abstract?…
In Emyr’s drawings…I get no sense of the line…There is a state of statis.
They are unbelievable well balanced.all the elements, the line , the scale changes, the small detailed spaces are all locked in. They all sit pulsating and vibrating….They are not going anywhere..They just ARE.
The paintings charge about. The colour controls space and the space moves in and out .
In spite of all that motion they ARE too
The drawings are an invention
The paintings are an invention
Both different but both drawing….and both abstract
I think …
“They just are” (I’ll take that)
This is an interesting point Anne, which seems to relate to movement. I share a commonality (albeit in a different medium) with the sculpture discussed on here: how is movement is harnessed, created, dealt with and so on? Movement pivots on time hence being very different in nature in painting and sculpture. Sculpture can continue to reveal itself anew as you physically move around it. Open sculpture makes more available spatially – this doesn’t create more complexity as a default though, as that depends on how successful it as in compelling this movement and continued expressive engagement; this continued revealing of what was known, perhaps, but now what is felt, as the experience is also moving and renewing itself in accordance with the changing encounter.
A painting is static – indeed that is ultimate goal – any disturbance felt is due to something not working, hence changes taking place in the making, decisions and so forth. How then to “induce” as rich a movement as sculpture aspires to, on this flat support, this static field of engagement? Although I am using marks which are the result of a literal movement and bear evidence of that, It is ultimately the colour which will induce this movement – the “drawing” (articulation of colour) can take liberties and jump all over the place, act ‘foolishly’ with no reservations or modesty even, but it must serve the colour rather than dominate it. This is the challenge and there’s lots to work on as inferred in some of the feedback.
Colour field artists, whether with sprays, floods or stripes sought to neutralise their formats to reveal colour, in a hoped for “optimum” way – fine, nice, good stuff. Let’s move on now though. I find the significant thing for me is the issue of “closeness”; something I first wrote about way back on Abstract Critical (transcript copy on my website). What am I doing that brings me closer rather creates distance in my work?– closer in terms of human intimacy, a somebody was here feeling. When I look at a Titian painting, or a Goya, a Matisse, Cézanne, so on, I can almost hear their breathing on the canvas.These are qualities independent of time, independent of any canon of great art, they are the future as well as the past. Time stands still.
Also I think a key feature in your work Emyr is the scale, so much is lost looking at a small image on screen. I have seen your work in the flesh and you show tremendous virtuosity when handling colour by making it look rich, dense and textural, I am sure these paintings are great in real life.
There is rhythm and a sense of notation in the black and white drawings which I feel could be translated into sounds, (I feel I know a musician who could do it) and of course the scale of ‘Quantum’ is thrilling.
There are visual themes here, both in the drawings and paintings, but they are shifting and changing and building intensity.
That’s really generous of you, Noela, many thanks. I do have issues with screen views, as we all do. The large drawing I deliberately switched to an in situ photo to address the scale. I wonder if it’s better to show part of the surrounding wall in all of them now as the few millimetres of the edge are important and do help provide a better sense of the actualities. I have been trying to get more out of the densities of the paint so I am pleased that you picked up on that. The ink is all about tone and adding water would create atmospheres which I wanted to avoid, hence the evolution into the current state: on or off, black or not – this forced my hand at getting a different kind of detail. I saw the comments about pattern and a graphic nature coming in the early days of making them but didn’t think it was an issue – if anything it spurred me on a bit to go further. They are very un flat (Tim) in the flesh with a heap of nuance and soft tone due to the nature of raw ink. It is such a wonderful medium to use – quite sumptuous (I tried several brands before getting to the one I use exclusively now). As to the notion of a musical interpretation – that really pricked up my ears (excuse the pun) – I am highly intrigued.
I am writing this in response to John Bunker a little earlier on up this feed..
.actually there are lots of things written here that I’m responding to …in my head.. `I like Alex’s take on the shading in Tim’s sculptures and that took me along to having another look at some of Braques and Picasso’s collages …and then Noela’s music analogy …Harrison Birtwhistle writes some inspiring words about what he wants in his music… I just need to work out why [ for me ] the music doesn’t sound like how he describes….
… so John…. just a general observation because I enjoyed your comment….
Unless we make a concerted effort when looking at /enjoying Abstract painting and sculpture [in our own sphere as it were]
do we often make comparisons and parallels with what’s going on in our own work?
Here’s what happened to me with these Emyr’s
I surprised myself when I quite quickly really ,really liked them.[ because I don’t make painting that looks like them }..so before I saw them i stupidly thought they would have no substantial effect on me.
Not wanting this to sound pretentious or like a magic moment, i did get a sort of transference of thinking and a strong FEEL. I identified with a search …a sense of looking for something.
OK… so I could say that any of the artists [ in this instance] who operate in the Brancaster Chronicles. Over time there has been a strong voice declaring we are all different…that is right….I believe it to be true.
But also a notion has been pushed around is that “It’s the look of the thing that counts”…
Why don’t i think that ‘counts ‘so much any more?
Perhaps because you can copy a’ look’, but you will never know what goes on in someones head and never be able to make a ‘look’ out of it …even if you did know…
Somewhere in this i feel as though I am brushing up against HOW Abstract art gets MADE
…and John,I always get lost in semantics……In your list I most often get stuck on spontaneity and wonder if Abstract art and particularly painting should have a good dollop of it.
For me spontaneity relentless but only successfully arrives after a long hard slog …well the “look of it ” that is.,
Enjoyed the comments by John and Anne. Spontaneity for me means not visualising a specific end point and what that looks like but working with the intent that it exists. I work in the way that speaks to my own sensibility. Each “instance” – every decision made to apply paint is something that can be focussed and open in reach rather than ignored or taken for granted. An open painting is a high risk painting. What does Tony say? “All the balls are in the air”. Mark talks about the issue in Tim’s work of an assertiveness being counterproductive – I am facing a similar challenge. The question for me is how can I wring every last drop of potency out of the colour? A spot of colour that is the same hue in two parts of a painting – does that means it’s in the same perceptual spatial plane? That can cause a problem or nullify the space. I am trying to induce movement through difference. This is where I see potential for space. These differences can be as subtle as a temperature change of colour or as abrupt as a high tonal contrast. Everywhere these differences can emerge: the extremities of the colour, the densities of it, the direction (implied) of it, a line, a spread, an overlap. Colour into colour is something that I am really on at the moment, as that can be wonderfully expressive. Ultimately it must end up (as Anne eloquently says) – having a ‘just is’ state). All forces must work together – I avoid a streamlined approach, though, preferring conflicts to get there.