Books

 

Expanded Painting

Mark Titmarsh

Mark Titmarsh's book on Expanded Painting has had a large influence on how I've been thinking about how I can relate my work to painting and at the same time consider alternative media and the creative directions it can lead to.

Working in the expanded field of an art form allows it to open up and reach into new areas both materially and conceptually - this has encouraged me to really engage with the edges of my practice. The paradoxal influence of working in a different medium to painting concentrates effort into acknowledging painting within making my work.

The book engages with process of making, relating the philosophy of Heidegger to the virtues of aesthetics and suggests that the ontological language of painting is free to move away from and transcend its formal origins, and its relationship to process and the artist allows this to happen in the studio.

 

Even though painting in the expanded field has been investigated by many artists I feel it has had a pivotal role in helping me find a route away from the comfortable zone of using just paint as a medium, to include elements of photography, sculpture and artificial light-sources as part of a more appropriate and interesting visual vocabulary of an installation, through which I can explore my ideas and activate relationships between the various elements using colour, shape, and space.

I began to explore these relationships fairly early on in the course but it had always been somewhat anchored in painting, which I was struggling with as a medium when my ideas were sometimes better suited to working with photography or sculpture. Following reading this book I was able to better combine the two as installations.

 

Labyrinths

Jorge Luis Borges

The collection of works in Labyrinths are a tapestry of paradoxes within tales of murder and mystery, and has strongly informed my practice and influenced my thinking.

The Circular Ruins, Death and The Compass and particularly The Garden of Forking Paths, with its fateful protagonist exploring the nature of time and its in-built paradoxes, and the fictional author of Don Quixote lending the story a kind of meta-mythical status, all convey the influence of what was around the time of writing new developments in the understanding of science, in particular quantum mechanics. More than anything Borges invites people to consider the many ways in which paradoxes merge into everyday life. The stories often question the presence of the author as well as the reader.

The abstract philosophy of Borges' magic realist writing have a lot in common with Stanislaw Lem's work, as well as art movements of the early to mid-twentieth century that also sought to break away from the realist descriptions of everyday life in favour of exploring the ways the world works 'behind the curtain', perhaps beginning with the cubists overloading the image with planes, and again in parallel with the scientific breakthroughs of the time (quantum weirdness; trying to explain the unknown quantities in the living world.)

The Outsider

Albert Camus

Albert Camus' absurdist philosophical novel describes the direction one man, Mersault, goes in after suffering a dislocating shock following the death of his mother.

It is a story about morality, but not in the conventional sense. Mersault has a refusal to conform, to rise to expectations. His indifference to the world around him puts him on a path where he commits a murder on a beach, under the bright heat and glare of a midday sun. Unable to communicate any remorse he is sentenced to death by the authorities.

It's written in a way that really evokes the main character's detachment from the world around him, as if he is merely playing a small part in a series of absurd unfolding events.

An interesting companion book to The Conformist by Alberto Moravia, The Outsider inspired me to explore the themes of identity, question the origins of society's imposed or self-imposed roles, contentious social structures and the finality of consequences when living removed from conventions.

 

​The Weird and the Eerie

Mark Fisher

This book investigates what makes something weird and something else eerie, marking distinctions between both terms and in which contexts they sometimes cross-over.

The writing has a refreshingly no-nonsense approach making it accessible to anyone with even just a passing interest in some of the cultural references author Mark Fisher delves into, which include the weird horror of H.P. Lovecraft, agents of weird paradox in science fiction films like Stalker, and what makes the Suffolk coastline occasionally very eerie. Some of these things often rely on the absence of things, whether human or not, unseen cause-effect scenarios, or the proliferation of something that can't be explained.

The absence of something is an important consideration when looking at any artwork - what has been left out is sometimes the most important. And the cause effect scenario of inter-relational objects in works that explore primary interfaces between colour, form and space to some extent rely on triggering a response that includes curiosity about how those sets of things got there in the first place, in order to decipher what they could mean.

 

I've found this book has helped me think further about the source material that often influences my work - the abandoned spaces, strange dwellings, the eerie forests and coastlines of the English countryside - particularly my connection to East Anglia - as well as objects that have no easily definable origin.

My earlier work during the MFA was using the wilderness of my childhood back garden as a backdrop - the woodland and fields of rural Norfolk. I was already exploring the uncanny in the banality of spaces there, which to me often had a visual relationship with stages in science fiction movies (Under The Skin, Third Encounters, Stalker), which this book fully delves into.

 
 

Solaris

Stanislav Lem

Descriptions of the interactions between the visitors to Solaris and the thinking planet itself has a strong absurdist element and the failed attempts at communication and misunderstanding between two very different forms of intelligence is explored in a particularly sophisticated and elegant manner. What struck me most in this book is the way in which Lem describes events - there is a very strong set of visual descriptions in the story, leaving you with a firm image of what is happening.

 

The method by which the scientists attempt to investigate and then communicate is purely by scientific analysis. However, the method by which the planet attempts to communicate is very much like a description of the artistic process, so besides everything else, to me the story is also able to define the source of ideas in relation to the artistic process. In this sense the planet conforms to being a meta-description of artistic process itself, where thoughts erupt, becoming corporeal for a time before disintegrating into the vast living ocean.

 

Dominion of the Dead

Robert Pogue Harrison

This dense book offers a dense investigation into the function of a dwelling in relation to natural spaces, particularly forests, and the historical use of such sites, our perception of which may have changed considerably throughout history.

Its relationship to my work during Unit 1 of the MFA marks the beginning of my contextualisation of the den as crossover space between the internal and external. The traditional walls of a living space were much less defined when groups of people were wandering tribes and their points of interaction became ritualistic zones of celebration and communion. Thinking about our association to our environment in this way enables a deeper interrogation of what we consider the function of a space to be.

Films

The Mosquito Coast

This 1986 film by Peter Weir, based on the Paul Theroux novel, served as one of the major inspirations behind my work The Shipwreck. It stars Harrison Ford as Allie Fox and carries with it many important themes that resonate well today.

The main character's admirable intention to live with total self-sufficiency and rebuild society from the ground up is caught short by the difficulties he faces, not least down to his own personality.

​In a futile attempt to impress and influence the natives of The Mosquito Coast by offering them ice produced in a machine of his own invention, "a sign of a great civilisation", it has of course melted before he can wow and thus seduce his new audience.


The Fox family's new utopia also isn't as undisturbed as they would have liked. Encounters with a band of mercenaries ends in their destruction within the machine Fox built to produce ice, the weaponisation of an invention originally built to provide stability. Another encounter comes in the form of an egotistical and antagonistic missionary, whose level of determination and influence is on par with Fox's own, similarly end in destruction and question the virtue of any type of extreme belief.


​​The environment is an important theme in the film. There are difficulties with survival after the family have purged the conveniences of modern society, especially finding it hard to adapt to a limited diet following the accidental toxification of the river they fished in after Fox blows up the ice factory. The ice plant itself, in the film a symbolic structure similar to a modernist corporate tower, is an obelisk to ingenuity that ends up highlighting the relationship between modern technology and environmental catastrophe.


In one later scene Ford's character, after rummaging the shoreline's detritus in a state of almost delusional resistance to defeat in the face of failure when all they have is gone, exclaims to his beaten family "if what you want isn't washed up on the beach, you probably don't need it!" - as he grips in his hands remnants of a society he still believes he has left behind.

 

It's a thought-provoking film made by a system usually uninterested in responding to real issues such as climate change and the trickle down effect of society's inherent ills.

Stalker

Andrei Tarkovsky

I've been a fan of this film for a long time, finding ways to show it to my friends at different times, sometimes unprepared for its allegorical depth and lengthy running time, and go on about it to people who've never seen it or somehow haven't heard of director Andrei Tarkovsky - it's one of those.

The unseen judgement as destination that awaits the Stalkers in the zone creates an eerie atmosphere, they themselves journeymen in a strange place where laws of nature seem to have broken down. At the edges of this maze-like arena, the monochromatic urban dwelling from where they came has given way to natures will - almost as if nature itself, through some major cataclysmic event or divine intervention, has rewritten its own laws.

 

The Stalkers are enticed by the unknown and the mysteries within, they say the ultimate destination, if they can reach it, has the power to grant a person almost anything in the world. As this information is passed down by previous Stalkers, it is as much a test of faith as anything else, the religious leanings of Tarkovsky influencing the film in a direction slightly different to what the source material Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky Brothers intended.

 

The way the film weaves this narrative into film scenes using bare cinematography without the use of any special effects is its greatest strength, the powerful setting in Estonia where it was filmed owing it a remarkable sense of place.

 
 
 
 

Exhibitions & Artists

 

Pavilion Suspended in a Room I

Cristina Iglesias, Tate Modern

The Pavilion Suspended works are some of my favourite pieces of sculpture. Made from interwoven steel and hung in a room these maze-like corridors allow you to see the external from the internal.

 

Words can be made out in these walls, which in this example are passages of text from Stanislav Lem's Solaris, built into the latticed structure itself.

I have been influenced by this piece when considering the evocation of the external world from the perspective of the internal space of the viewer with my Paper Den Membrane piece in the MFA Show.

 

John Bunker

@ Unit 3 Projects

John Bunker possesses a greatly intuitive approach to successful combinations of colour and form, akin to other artists like Jessica Stockholder. Unlike Stockholder though I was lucky to meet John and see his work at a small solo exhibition in east London.

These were smaller works in comparison with his other shows earlier this year. What strikes me most about his collages is the kinetic sense of rhythm and rather dizzying amalgamation of found objects - some painted on, others not - placed in such a way that at first they seem rather chaotic but on closer inspection expose an intense amount of thought and purpose behind every decision.

 

Looking closely at the details you can become lost in their small worlds, the white spaces between each piece turning into cavernous expressions of space, the larger materials melting away into the peripheral.

 

Even though I know the materials come from the streets and floors of the local neighbourhood they hide their origins a little too much. When placed together I'm reminded of Matisse's cutouts; they form a powerful simulacrum of only the most gestural of abstract painting. However, in going from big to small and small to big as a recurring method of investigating the materials used, the cyclical engine of his practice, he might literally be going round in circles. But this process of repetition does seem to have powers of re-invigoration, and the repetitive element of process is something that is greatly engaging me with my own most recent work.

Jasper Johns

Tate Modern

The Jasper Johns show at the Royal Academy was a big show that starts slowly. However, about halfway around the exhibition one room focused on exploring notions of objecthood in his painting where works turned into almost Dada-like objects themselves.

 

 

This was the point where I became most interested, and where the show led into collections of other works that seemed to prolong John's foreplay with space and form into bolder territory. Some might say the White Flag paintings (curiously absent from this show bar an earlier version on paper) is 'all the Johns you need'. But it's his move away from the painted surface that interests me the most.

​The exhibition wasn't displayed in a purely chronological order - works from different decades collide, drawings on paper together with large encaustic-heavy canvases, works from the mid-80's pleasingly offset against those from at least two decades prior.

 

Here I could see the connections and resemblances between motifs and handling of structure and space that John's explored for most of his life. The zealous use of colour and cacophony of talismanic symbols are all served up in a whirlpool of assured mark making. Many works are at least two canvases that become divided not only by their supports but also by objects surrounding them, at once against the interior space of the painted surface and the external space of the viewer.


One of my favourites was Field Painting, with its neon lighting and almost diarist inclusion of the tools that went into making the painting, including the artists own footprint letting you know he was in the room.

​Paintings from his 'crosshatch period' like Corpse and Mirror and Dancers on a Plane exhibit a jangling symphony of line and colour, complex and beautiful patternation as a system of display. The latter seems to suggest the front of a Jumbo Jet amidst a mass of coloured lines as if viewing the object through semi-transparent tin foil as it catches the artificial lights bouncing across the plane and runway.

Besides referring directly to people in his work I also see more over-arching concerns about cycles of life and death and perhaps all the stuff that lies in between. Maybe it is this in-between world, the one of memory, recollections and the passage of time that paintings such as Between the Clock and the Bed, with its undulating left-right system of shading, most point towards. Is this the truth in the title of the exhibition? It may be about painting itself, a thing that is only the result of an amalgamation of materials and pigments and specific interactions from the artist.

 

© 2018 copyright Mark Jeffreys

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