The Thought for Food a-n professional development bursary was in part allocated to curatorial feedback and with a growing body of work, the time is now right to gain some feedback. For me, this is a vital part of the process, I am so close as to be totally and wholly immersed in the production of the paintings and drawings, and an outside eye will be a much needed check and balance.
The first meeting is scheduled for February 2018 – which sits neatly after the final Thought for Food evening that is focussed on Boundaries. The preparation for this has been fascinating – a useful by product of the Christmas and New Year holidays being time to read more and develop the thinking around the work. It has also given more time to devote to walking the land that I depict in the work. The physical knowledge of the soil under one’s feet impacts on the application of paint as much as cerebral and visual stimuli.
I am looking forward to having time to fully discuss the ideas in the work and to find out if it has any currency outside the safety of the studio.
The third Thought for Food evening is planned, this time centred on the topic of Boundaries.
Not face to face, but a virtual meeting, eating and sharing experience. A Thought for Food pack will be sent out to guests containing notes, materials and prompts for the discussion and suggested meal choices with vouchers to enable their purchase.
Will there be any issues with boundaries to conversation and verbal exchange? The evening will tangentially examine if the dissolution of perceived boundaries is possible in this context.
It is curious to think how much the physical requirements are needed to set up this virtual exchange. A postal system and timely deliveries will need to swing into action for the evening to take place with all the layered elements in position.
Something has been amiss in this blog about Thought for Food. Of course there is the rather random order of the posts due to circumstances outside my control and rightly the blog posts have focussed on the intense and fascinating discussions at the Thought for Food meals. But importantly, my attendance at a two day course held at Wysing Arts Centre over a year ago, has been a fundamental building block on which the development of new work has been built. Led by artist Sohelia Sokhanvari, the course covered the techniques and practice of working in egg tempera, from grinding pigment to making an emulsion then creating paints that have such a unique quality that it is hard not to fall in love with them.
Being so closely connected to the production of the material makes for an embodied response to creating a piece of work, not least the knowledge that this is an act in the context of the history of painting. Currently an unfashionable medium, egg tempera had its day before the advent of oil paint, and there are many examples in Renaissance works and earlier spiritual paintings. Often combined with gilding it fell out of favour to slower drying oil paint. Despite a short revival in America from c.1920 to 1980, egg tempera is an uncommon medium for artists today.
A studio visit with curator Helen Nisbet (currently curatorial fellow at Cubitt Gallery London) included discussion around mapping spaces, particularly the presentation and re-presentation of place in paint. I have been deeply involved in a commission to make work in response to Cambridge Judge Business School, and Helen has been an invaluable part of the discursive process around the development of the work. The School is housed in a building with origins as far back as 1766, through 19th Century renovation to a post modern re-envisioning by architect John Outram and this year, a new, contemporary addition by Stanton Williams.
The commission has caused me to think deeply about how we look and read a building, particularly when it assaults our senses either through wonderful chaos or subtle muted rhythms. The joyous, overexcited post modern interior of Cambridge Judge Business School is now partnered with a serene sibling in the new, adjoining Simon Sainsbury Building.
Working in egg tempera and developing my knowledge of the medium has gone hand in hand with the simultaneous Thought for Food gatherings. The use of this medium for the Cambridge commission brought together a natural connection between the fresco secco work in Renaissance cathedrals and spiritual iconography, and the brightly coloured interior of the cathedral like Judge School. The ancient and fast drying medium brings challenges, not least the management and manoeuvring of paint across swathes of gessoed surface. Tempera is suited to small, on hair strokes of the brush, breaking this tradition has risks, not least lifting under layers of paint.
Sometimes we pay attention to unexpected things; persistent circular indents revealing a luxurious palette; vibrant terrazzo, an architectural map of green sea and red islands. The paintings I have made are the consequence of a visceral reaction to the buildings. Positioned in-between architectural space and interior adornment, the works make their own attempt at redecoration, presenting the building back to itself. The works, which come together under the title Temporal, have been informed significantly by the topics discussed in the Thought for Food gatherings. They act as a selective archive of the building, and bring into question how we choose to catalogue,. They map the space, and visually represent the difference between time determined interiors. In addition each painting presents a boundaries snapshot, determined by my own process of decision making during the making of the works. For this reason, amongst others, Boundaries will be the next Thought for Food topic.
During the course of Thought for Food, I’ve been thinking about how we map ourselves and how we are mapped into the world. Pondering the connections and links that we make and establish, allowing feeling of steadiness, and stasis. Creating visual images, mapping a composition offers pauses for the eye, and with that comes security. As Agnes Martin says in the text The Untroubled Mind (a transcript of a 1972 interview) ,
This painting I like because you can get in there and rest.
In this roving, poetic stream of thoughts, Martin identifies nature as a hungry, active and demanding thing, whereas the painting of nature is something else, a gathering and bringing together of elements that bring peace, that we draw on as individuals. Martin infers that it is not only the artist that works from an untroubled mind, but that
People get what they need from a painting.
The viewer can acquire peace by looking at an artwork. Does the creation of a painting, a visual map, afford more comfort than an experiential understanding of place? A work that brings together moments of fleeting recognition and supposed knowledge might suggest a place of rest. Even with subtle shifts and turns, despite substitutions, visually mapping might bring us to a different place of understanding because of, or despite, what we know from the physical world, over what we see in a visual representation.
Agnes Martin, “The Untroubled Mind,” in Agnes Martin: Writings/Schriften, ed. Dieter Schwarz (Ostfildern: Cantz, 1991), p. 44.