Sevenoaks Kaleidoscope Gallery
South East England

‘The gallery recently received a proposal from an artist to create a mural in the gallery using principles of automatic drawing. This raised questions around whether work can really be created automatically. Does the artist eventually have to intervene to make conscious decisions about the work? Does process based work offer a framework to free the artist from the conscious decision? How might materials and processes shape or influence work of this type?’  (Artists were asked to submit work that explores these questions.)  A story concerning the constructivist Anthony Hill tells of him taking days to perfect a square Perspex shape.  Having perfected it, he felt that it didn’t look right, and removed a portion from one side. The business of the automatic connects with decisions, choices, and judgements.

This is the troublesome bit, where feeling and its attendant need for action arises into consciousness, automatically, as it were, and where intuitive decisions – acts of faith – make synaptic connections.  Jonathan Bentall ‘…….. allowed for compositional control to enter either consciously or unconsciously, making or breaking the work and enabling him to engage with the mystery and precariousness of painting’ Kathleen Fox too is ‘…aware that the final outcome is moulded by her own need to make some sense of the narrative and aesthetics of the piece.’ Her small sculptural piece, ‘Cry Wolf ‘ too has its oscillations, ambiguities, ambivalences. Both sexual and ungendered its disdainfully erect neck attracts the eye.  Below the belly pendulous breasts, such as once nourished Romulus and Remus, hang in suspended anticipation. On its back, bristles, hackles raised, tenderness steeled. She shows two pieces formed with her signature process using river-mud and its inhabitants to produce an image of trails and deposits. In these spatially ambivalent pieces, macro and micro oscillate, microscopic and universal, worlds and creatures of indeterminate mass and scale, Miro and Ernst.

Russell Scott-Skinner ‘…works directly without pre-planned ideas of how the finished piece should look…’, emerging from the process with a piece stylistically consistent with his past works. We live as automatically as we walk, always close to the troublesome bit, especially troublesome for the artist.  Ian Campbell-Briggs nods in the direction of  the constructivists, following simple procedures to make welded works whose final form is an aesthetic decision.

 Emma Harding’s paintings are of images of mountains, Mountains from books, coloured in the  manner of  painting by numbers but with a nuanced palette, and personalised through the use of  text drawn in the neat, handmade  style of  a conscientious child enjoying some illustration.  Images of the type that a child might find in the treasure trove of boxes in a loft, they hark back to comforting memories of past evenings spent, colours in hand, by the fire, in awe of faraway places. Her studied expression of earnest innocence stands in counterpoint to Jonathan Bentall’s fruity colouring, impulsive scratching, tactile pleasure, his child enjoying the sqidgy physicality of things, colours on hands.

The Automatic in Annie Halliday’s work is the functioning of a pinhole camera. It underlines the closeness of technique and taste, image conceived in the binding together of physics and chemistry, light and form. Curved paper has a particular effect upon the pinhole image, twisting perspective, physics dancing.

 Does the artist have to intervene? All beginnings have a history. Intervene is both too loaded and too limited a term with which to explore the nature of the artist’s engagement with the work. And the notion of the conscious decision begs questions of  freedom of action, free will if you like. Are we freely choosing when we follow our internal demand to intervene?  The automatic process as decision making is one chosen by the artist, not as an intervention in the world but as an engagement with it. Dabbing, scratching, welding, rusting, photographing, the inclination is to describe what happens as on the one hand technical process and choice and on the other aesthetic consequence and judgement in a continuous causal chain. But is a photograph caused by a particular technical event, or symptomatic of it, cause and effect being separate and linear, event and symptom simultaneous, which convolution comes back to the automatic making of a mark. Steven Foy addresses the possibilities of a simple approach. He paints with studied indifference to surface, and a large brush; the nature of finish betrays his concerns – do it once and then again, work in series, evolve.  The notion of ‘…the resulting work as being analogous to the body and mind……..the shape of his own unconscious.’ arises from his concern that edges and boundaries, margins, are metaphors, places where the unconscious is focused. He points us in the direction of the ‘unconscious action’ documented by his painting. But does he mean automatic? Automatic and unconscious seeming to be conflated somewhat.  Notions of the automatic and the unconscious are accepted ‘automatically’, but they are the kind of term that we use in attempting to describe processes that we do not understand; they give a name to our incomprehension.  However sensible it might seem, an unconscious decision is as unfathomable as naming a process automatic is superficial. A little descriptive snake-oil deceives us into a belief in the mystical.   I walk automatically but not unconsciously. To make marks automatically is to think consciously with the mark? Mind is a quality of matter, body its form… Have a look.