Critically Reflective Mid term Review


I am continuing to develop plans for my final set of paintings. Although I did make a final jug study painting, the appearance of clouds, both visually and metaphorically overshadowed the jug motif. I continue to explore my thinking in terms of the non verbal, and non "signed" visual language, one that requires a meeting of consciousness at the point of viewing the painting. I am leaving the ideas of balkanised genres behind, and am exploring ways in which the thoughts, character and preoccupations of people can be conveyed in a new and exciting way. I am exploring the idea of people within the landscape, not as distant figures but active, thinking, relating.

My Time Traveling Tea Hut has been refurbished and is allowing me to immerse myself again in the local landscape, away from the comforts of home, the relationship with the air, the weather, the light is so much closer, more dynamic and engaging. 

I am particularly enjoying studying and collecting skies, both in my memory, photographically and in painting. 

My questions were on how I could produce work that has both meaning and has visual impact, without being too dictatorial to my audience? Work that communicates clearly between mine and another human consciousness? By gauging feedback I can assess how my work is perceived, and decide how much ambiguity is desirable. I want to discover what elements the human perception finds most engaging. It would seem from the feedback I have received that people prefer higher levels of realism than I expected. Paradoxically they seem most impressed when my work "looks like a photograph" which I know it does not, but this is the accolade given. My reading Splendours and Miseries of the Brain, regards the study of  Neuroaesthetics has indeed shown representational and figural work supplies more information and triggers higher level of brain activity in the viewer. In studying why I find photorealism unsatisfying, yet paradoxically enjoy high observational realism I realise that that the brain even in realism is constantly making decisions on what is and is not important to the image to elicit a response. This the camera cannot do. Some of the questions I asked myself, about levels of realism and the viewer I naively thought I would find answers to. However it has become clear the human perception, so closely link with culture, memory and expectations, that I am better pleasing myself, and then gauge to how many it is successful.

I have continued to deepen my understanding of technical expertise in paint materials and good practice. So much so that I am making a Churchill Fellowship application to further my knowledge and I am meeting with George O'Hanlon for training in September when he is in Europe for a couple of weeks.

My visit to Madrid to see the Sorolla show and the Prado was richly rewarding. I was particularly impressed with the qualities of surface that I observed and am trying to put into my work. The Immediacy of Paint Symposium also opened up ideas about surface, facingness and frontedness that was something I wish to consider in my work.

The work of Brad Kunkle has made quite an impact upon my thinking about my work. I was impressed on the effect the gold and platinum leaf in his paintings added another layer of visual effect, and one that specifically denies digital and book reproduction.

I have been experimenting with Gold Mussin leaf and medium.

Alongside my development as a painter I want to expand my art beyond making and into the “being” of an artist. I have been exploring the "being" nature of an artist. I have explored creative living methods such as Kon Marie method ( The Magic of Tidying) Csiikszentmihalyi's idea of FLOW, and in taking Nootropics designed to enhance brain functions, and micro electro stimulation. I have become an ethictarian ( only eating food that is humanely and ethically produced)

I have enjoyed the deeper study I have made of Metamodernism, and plan to follow and indeed engage in the development of this way of thinking. Reflecting on my discoveries and experiences in phenomenology, transdisciplinarity, I used this text as an example of writing to attend a conference on phenomenology:

Stillness in The Noise


Like a startled Snow White running through the night forest of frightening trees, I ran from one philosophical and and leering theorist to another, turning this way and that, unable to comprehend the landscape or find my way in the dark.

Like Snow White, the morning light brought calm and rationality. The trees were just trees, and I could choose my path.

I read enough critical theory now to understand that there is much disagreement amongst theoreticians. There is a particular divide between continental philosophy and analytical, as well as a divide between early continental phenomenological and later anti-phenomenological theory. I have learnt that dialectic argument is roundly challenged. Late continental philosophy, which seems to be the favourite school of thought for Postmodern artists, is by no means accepted as rational or provable. 

Deleuze, Guattari, Barthes, Foucault have all been criticised for arguments so convoluted that they make no sense. “Intellectual Imposters” by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmount reveals that, from a scientific viewpoint,  Lacan, Derrida and Kristeva all use terms about which they do not have the faintest understanding. Appropriating terms across disciplines with insufficient understanding causes confusion. Kristeva may know what she means, but her language fails her.

Professor Susan Rowland’s recent lecture on ‘Dionysus and transdisciplinarity, or the role of imagination in research’  helped me to understand the term Transdisciplinarity (expounded by theoretical physicist Basarab Nicolescu) which delineatesthe problems that compartmentalisation of academic disciplines brings. Their exclusive vocabularies have created a situation where even common words have different meanings. This makes cooperation and mutual understandingdifficult, and division and competition result. Transdisciplinarity encourages re-integration and exploitation of the places between traditional disciplines, and the dissolving of boundaries.

Transdisciplinarity may help the situation between the humanities and science, which seem to be at odds with each other. I have been following a group and artists, writers and philosophers, called the Alpine Fellowship, which is specifically looking at the place where science and humanities are in conflict. I am making an application to join them for their conference later in the year.

My reading of “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari has revealed that, in order to function in large societies, we collectively believe myths that give us purpose and social cohesion. There seem to be better and worse myths, much of organised religion had caused war and harm, yet a belief in human rights, another myth, has helped mankind. There is the myth of a story, or an archetype, which can help us understand our world.

In pondering these matters I keep returning to the notion of framing, looking through a portal. This can be a framework of many modes of thought, of critical theory, of political bias, of gender, to name a few. It can also be a function of time and memory, place or imagination. As an artist I ama myth-maker. I have the freedom to create worlds, to frame them in the world of my projected imagination.

These thoughts were very much in mind as I created my artworks. The two pieces formed in response to the Czech residency both followed the idea of a frame or portal. The circular”Lens”, revealed the distortions that inhumane imprisonment have on our perception, the dark shadows and gloom hide the crimes committed there, too awful for me to comprehend or depict. The “Window in The Wall” attempts to link the incarceration with the notions of hope and connection, we all live under the same sky, regardless of our current state. I was pleased at the crib to see that “Window in the Wall” communicated it’s meaning, and with the benefit of the feedback I was able to strengthen the message and image accordingly. 

The jug series of drawing and paintings did indeed help me from a technical and experiential frame of reference. What was unexpected however was my clarifying of the actual mental processes going on as I paint. As someone who does not primarily function in linguistic mode, I found it very useful to constrain myself into thinking and recording the process as I worked. 

As the jugs project progressed onto larger pieces, my considerations of viewpoint, the frame through which I look, the multiple angles and temporal shifts started to come into play. The discovery of disrupting panoramic photographs led me naturally to investigating the tenets of cubism, and helped me form a new appreciation for Duchamp, and Braques. I was able to push my work further by reflecting on the work of Morandi and Uglow. My work took a rapid turn upon viewing Goya in Madrid.

Every stage of my work this has revealed new ways of working and thinking. It’s a little unsettling to be in such a state of flux, yet I am satisfied with my progress.

I have deepened my understanding of the networks functioning in the growing field of representational painting. I am following and engaging in the debates about the theoretical frameworks for developing artists in this genre.

Through my understanding of Metamodernism, I am letting go of the need for absolute truths, whilst enjoying the search for my authenticity and truth.

Notwithstanding all the “thinking” that critical enquiry requires, a fact remains the act of artistic creation, when I am in full flow, is wordless, concept less. It is a state of being, of being present, of observation without judgement. These are the tenets of Ekhart Tolle’s popular philosophy. I have not made much reference to it in my reflective journal. There is so little to say beyond a few signpost phrases such as “Being in the Now” “Letting go of the ego, the self”. Tolle’s books are essentially repetitive, just sufficient to guide the reader to stop reading, and try the practice. 

The practice is everything.  I suspect the same may be true for art, after all that we say and do, in the end they are only signposts, they are not the experience of the journey, and they are certainly not the destination. The map is not the territory.  This my art-making state.

It is unfortunate that the thinking required to record in a reflective journal is the very action that prevents the non-egoic state of presence. Reflection builds the ego, and so it has to handled with caution and humility


Artists lament and dilemma:

How to be systematic? Criticality? Contexts in critically engaged art and the bigger pictures? The temptation to author our own history, to write our own critiques and beat the critics to it, is ubiquitous. We anxiously try to control the perception of ourselves, we make self-negating statements under the guise of thesis and antithesis, and avoid derision by saying nothing.  Despite Barthes , and death of the author we desperately want a voice.