Is Your Life Worth A Painting?
10 Aug 20 by justatest
As a young artist, I'd lived and worked for some years on the top floor of an abandoned hospital in the city.
At the end of my stay, I painted everything white (walls, floor, furniture, tv, books, clothes, curtains, bed, remains of final meal etc., but not the paintings I´d made) and held an exhibition which was grant-aided by the Arts Council and kindly opened by the art critic Dorothy Walker.
After the show run, I closed the door leaving everything as it was and left the country.

Before: livingroom

It was the 1980´s after all. Most of my artist friends and colleagues had already emigrated, and I was one of the last of the group to leave. Visual art has never been much appreciated in the country, but even less so during biting recessionary years. The danger was that we´d just disappear as artists, caught up in the clichéd immigrant struggle of isolated survival in a new country.

After: Livingroom (bay windows)

The building was a georgian residence dating from the 1700´s, bright and spacious, overlooking the canal. It had been a children´s hospital for much of the 20th century but had been left empty and unused for some years before I lived there. Lovely place to work, very cold in winter.

Before: Living (and bed) room

Most of us had arrived at a point at which we felt that there wasn´t much more that could be done artistically there, with little or no acknowledgement of the work after numerous ignored exhibitions.
The time had come to move on in the hope of finding environments more receptive to experimental visual language, less rooted in the conservative, backward-looking, and reactionary controls that maintained a tight grip on public discourse throughout those years.

After: Living (and bed) room

The south-facing wing of the hospital was made up of many tiny rooms, each one still hosting a child´s iron cot. There were also many x-ray negatives of the patients left scattered around. It often struck me at the time that I really ought to be using those elements (cots, x-rays) in my work but my interests at the time lay more in a formalism and deconstruction of painting, and not so much in the found object.

Before: Livingroom fireplace & stairs to terrace

Whatever happened to the works in the end I have no idea. More than likely dumped along with the other contents of the rooms whenever the building was eventually renovated.

After: Livingroom fireplace & stairs to terrace

Visitors to the show said the effect of the white paint was as if creating a moment of life forever frozen in time, a little eerie and unsettling.

Livingroom show last meal & tv

I had completed three large exhibitions in as many years, and was beginning to think that with growing the rate of production, I might possibly gain a slow acceptance within the tiny contemporary art market in the country.
That thought didn´t really interest me however as I was more concerned with testing my commitment to being an artist outside an environment which had become familiar over time. I wanted to see if I could continue to work even when things got really bad.

Livingroom front windows

So what then could that ¨..when things got really bad..¨ possibly look like?
I imagined being in a country the language of which would be incomprehensible to me, to be amongst people who had not even the slightest regard for the artworks I made, to have to maintain a numbingly dull job in an office each day, and to have no contact with the outside world of art.
Would it be possible to fight that daily grind yet still make meaningful work?

View across landing

Heading South

Heading South
After: Studio with Heading South

Do It Anyway

Do It Anyway
oil & mixed media on canvas, 105cm X 70 cm

A quick tour of a few examples from the show. It transpired that the work was trying to break out of the confines of a two-dimensional surface and move instead into a sculptural context of real time and space. This fact was clearly not understood by me at the time.
Looking back I was caught quite tortuously poking out of the canvas plane sometimes in the most quirky (and ridiculous) fashion.


Oil on canvas [104cm x 76cm x 5cm]

More tentative projection. I stretched canvas on the front and rear of a stretcher to create a thick panel (or thin canvas box) and painted it a rich, dark, oily, cobalt violet.
It was then mounted on the wall to protrude directly into the viewer space so that both front and rear were visible.
The image is a photomontage of the painting front and rear, along with a textural detail in sunlight.

Deconstruction 2

Deconstruction 2
triptych oil on canvas, 200cm X 75cm

Actively deconstructing the canvas was another concern. I ended up breaking, wrapping, tying, covering it´s constituent parts. The materials acquired more importance than the image. It was all part of a move to push the work towards a 3-dimensionality, along with a keen interest in the plasticity of the elements.


triptych oil on canvas, 210cm X 90cm

The last painting I ever did. Afterwards everything that followed was somehow more ´knowing´ and self-aware.
It sounds dramatic but in fact this work opened and, upon entering, closed a door behind me through which there was no return.

Green Studio

Green Studio
oil & mixed media, 90cm X 90cm

Here I was playing with materials found on the studio floor but trying to keep them behind glass and fixed within the confines of the 2-dimensional plane.
As can be seen, I failed in that objective with them instead leaking at one edge and out into the real world.

Return of the Repressed

Return of the Repressed
Triptych (actually 4 equally-sized canvases), oil & mixed media on canvas

Further explorations with the classic materials of wood, oil colour, and canvas (along with some extra string and paper around the smashed middle canvas).
I employed a piping bag (used for decorating cakes) to apply the oil paint to the canvas on the right, wherein the act of painting took on the properties and guise of a sculptural event.

Exhibition invitation