I’m often asked about the runs and gaps in my paintings where another colour or a drip seems to break through the surface from another layer of the work. This is usually more apparent in the skies or through the surface of a wave. It probably frustrates some viewer’s idea of what a landscape should look like. My answer to this question is complicated and I’m unable to pin it down precisely but I’ll attempt it here.
Here are some of the reasons why my work has these interruptions to the surface.
- Perception: We receive information about our environment through our senses but we understand it through cognitive and emotional filters. We might think we see a “blue sky” or a “grey sky” but there is always a variation in tone and intensity of colour. We know from science that there are thermals and wind currents moving gasses and particles around. We also know that the “sky” we see is actually layered from ground level to outer space and that the composition and apparent colour of those layers also varies. In fact he colour we see in the sky is actually light striking the chemical soup that constitutes our atmosphere and we are standing in it as we look. We can feel it’s movement. We can smell it. Sometimes we can hear it, and all the time there are Cosmic Rays, Radio Waves etc bombarding us and passing through things on Earth.
- Philosophy: The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus came up with the idea of a universe that was subject to constant change or flux. His ideas have been summed up buy the statement “No man ever steps in the same river twice”. That simply means that time is constantly changing the state of everything we receive through our senses. When you step into a river there are millions of changes happening all around you and that exact river that you entered is gone forever. Similar ideas can be found in the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu where change/time in nature and indeed in people (part of nature) is seen as a central driving force in all things.
- Art: I trained in an institution where abstract painting was seen as the only serious way to paint. It was the end of the 70’s and the end of the Modernist era and in Sydney, a remote outpost of the New York School of heroic Abstract Expressionist and Colour Field Lyrical Abstract painting, it was happening all around me and for a while, in my own way, I did it too. It’s a lot of fun to mix up a batch of colour, lay a canvas on the floor and walk around it throwing acrylic paint onto the surface to watch them blend and run. It uses gravity and viscosity which happen to be shaping forces in the natural world. It throws up unexpected combinations and shapes which I may choose to leave showing in the finished oil painting of my chosen subject. It’s my way of representing the chaos and complexity that I see in nature whilst differentiating my work from that of other painters.
So to paraphrase Heraclitus I never paint the same painting twice or paint the same way twice. Not all landscapes are the same and I don’t feel the same way about painting them every day. Each work I make is an honest recording of what I saw, felt, and knew about my subject and I hope they are dynamic, suggesting change, not passive and locked into a stable, artificial universe.