This is the sort of project I love; concerns from my existing practice colliding with an external provocation (in this case, to respond to the collection of Maidstone Museum) to trigger a new idea.

I’ve chosen to re-imagine what a modern day Vanitas painting could look like.

I like to play the sound bite word game. In this case it’s helped me cut to the core of what’s important about the challenge. It’s a way to spend time exploring the idea – getting to know it better – similar to what takes place when making a piece of work. I used the approach on the process of painting itself and I realise I’m more interested in the visceral feelings the process of painting provokes than the skill itself.

The painting word game

Bleed, bloom, rivulet, disperse, feathered edges
Flick, drip, trickle, pour, drown
Immerse, wash, scrub clean
Perspectival manipulations
Erode, damage, obliterate
Translucent, impenetrable
Pearlescent, glossy, matt
Silvered, glisten, gleam
Decaying degradation
Archaeological traces
Black, tarry negation
Slide, slither, trickle
Dark, doom, gloom
Subtle haunting
Panic, despair
Sueded velvet
Soak; sodden
Gravity, drift
Control – not

For this series of work, the individual pictures chosen for inclusion are vitally important. It’s easy to be sloppy with a collage constructed from lots of material but ultimately if each isn’t carefully chosen with a specific purpose in mind the overall impact proved weak and biased towards the graphic. In this case, the purpose is two-fold; the sort of material that appears in traditional Vanitas alongside a concern central to my personal practice with the fractured passive female form.

A method of composition is slowly revealing itself; painstaking layers built up gradually following apparently accurate perspectives that are in fact truthfully ‘off’.

After experimenting with various scales, I’ve settled on something that is small, jewel-like and demands careful looking at 25.4 x 25.4cm. I think the only alternative is something assertively huge in size – anything in between feels like a pointless compromise. The format chosen is square – neutral – a deliberate distancing from both traditional portrait and landscape formats. The work will be displayed unframed mounted on split-battening – another conscious break from traditional approaches.

I can see this series expanding, perhaps to six or ten pieces to see how / if the process shifts over an extended number of pieces. This should keep me busy over the winter!

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I’ve recently re-shot a film I made to improve the footage and incorporate sound. It’s just had its debut at the 51zero arts festival in Medway allowing me to view it critically for the first time.

The new stills are much more effective. I’ve now worked closely with this collage three times — once to create it and twice to video it — and each reiteration of the process improves my knowledge and relationship with the piece giving better end results. Presumably I’ll reach a point when familiarity builds contempt, but I haven’t found it yet! The new footage shows a stronger control of composition and focus. The piece plays with concealing and revealing, offering tantalising fragments of a whole image whilst hinting at the entirety of the whole, uncovering the complete piece only towards the end of the animation. In the first version of the film this didn’t work correctly whereas version two is much more successful.

Experiencing the final film in large scale format in a gallery setting made me feel uneasy. The stills are calm and roll out at an evenly measured pace whereas the sound is unpredictable, harsh, and somewhat jarring. Ultimately, this disjuncture is interesting but it’s vital the sound track is played at the right level so that it begins as subtle background susurration building to a more intrusive crescendo towards the final third of the piece. Most viewers acknowledge the sound as relating to tearing or cutting but the final third of the track has a different nature approximating the whispering of multiple voices. This was neither planned nor intended but suits the feeling of displacement the work strives to create.

The inclusion of sound definitely improves the work.

The film’s length (just over 5 minutes) feels right; long enough to establish its point without becoming over-indulgent.

I don’t know where I go from here. My feelings are that shifting a collage to animation delivers a work of art that’s clearly very different to the original montage — both have their own place. I suspect film will re-surface at intervals within my practice to deliver very specific results in very specific circumstances.

Link to my film