I can't be held responsible for my actions (reprise). VII


Enamel paint on canvas

25.7 x 20.6 cm

This series, begun in late 2020, was initially an exercise in freeing up my approach to composition and mark making. At the time I had been making paintings of a specific, exclusively uniform, regular pattern of evenly spaced parallel lines, and although this approach had served me well for close to two years, it had become restrictive. I was itching for a little painterly liberation.

The process of construction is adapted from a series of paintings I made back in 2014/15, comprised of a small number of freehand dots scattered across the canvas. The location of the dots was randomised by dividing the picture plane into a millimetre square grid and extracting grid references from a random number generator found online. The “reprise” paintings are made in a very similar way: Grid references are again generated, though this time in pairs, and the two resultant points are joined with a freehand line. Each painting contains six lines, the lengths and locations of which are of course decided without human authorship.

Though initially I was uncertain of the results, I have grown to consider this series an important development in my practice. They solve the problem they were originally designed to, but I they offer more than this. They address struggles I have always had regarding the authoritative process of decision making in painting, and what bearing that has on judgement of the result, and more widely I believe they serve to exemplify the way I have consistently used abstraction as an escapist tool.

The breadth of what one can make as an abstract painter is unquantifiably wide, and once one has made something, to determine its objective quality is a similarly daunting task. I have never been able to come to terms with this, and I think it’s probably largely responsible for the minimalism and rigid structure that have been present throughout the majority of my abstract work. Though I hold Twombly, Mitchell, Motherwell, Frankenthaler, Hodgkin and such in high regard, I have never been able to make the sort of liberated composition decisions they appear to. I have not the confidence or ability to judge my own choices either in the moment or after the event. I find it fraught with uncertainty and I don’t enjoy it at all. This series of paintings has allowed me to address the problem. I can make works with a superficially free and expressive aesthetic, but which are in fact tightly constrained by a predetermined rule set and designed almost entirely without my influence. The only “human” input is the quick and functional connection of two points with a pencil line. The speed of action and coarse nature of the canvas mean such a line is wayward by degrees, lending to the impression of freedom I hope to convey. By virtue of this construction process, specifically my authoritative absence, the resultant compositions are far easier for me to pass judgement on. Some are good, some are bad, some obviously so, some not so clear, but all can be assessed with a critical distance I could not have achieved otherwise.

If the viewer were to consider this process cold and detached, I could understand that, particularly as a face value reading of the paintings (which would be legitimate and fully justified, I might add) may suggest a more “emotionally engaged” activity, but there is more of me in them than simply stages of construction. The years I spent making only abstract work, the best part of a decade, were a particularly challenging time for me. Over this period I struggled variously in both personal and professional spheres, and my mental health suffered  as a result. On reflection, I consider my move into pure abstraction in 2013 as a crutch to help me deal with the problems I faced. Throughout, my approach has been to reduce or remove responsibility from the practice, and to make of painting a refuge, wherein I could divest myself of expectation and judgement, both from others and from myself (the title of this series, a lyric lifted from a Nick Cave song, could scarcely make this more obvious). Whether doing so has been a success, it’s hard to say. Did it save me from trauma? No. But would my struggles have been worse without it? Quite possibly. Quite probably.

Pure abstraction is no longer the solitary focus of my practice and, based on how I have used it, this must surely be a good sign, but I continue to make it. Though born of struggle, the approach has become a vitally important therapeutic behaviour. My need for it is no longer desperate, but it persists none the less and I shall continue to address it through painting. Phrases such as “art therapy” or “self care” may be ridiculed, belittle the work in the eyes of some, or strike a blow upon my chances of being taken as a “serious artist”, but it is what it is and I’m not about to start pretending it’s anything else for something as ephemeral as popular acceptance. As I imagine may be clear by now, I couldn’t give a fuck about that.