Filling in the blanks

Art research and writing, studio updates

March 2024

Thoughts on abstract landscape

The first artists that pop into my head when I think about abstract landscape are Richard Diebenkorn, Mark Rothko, and Richard Long. I would prefer to call these landscapes at a distance artists and there is an interesting thread running between them.

Richard Diebenkorn's Ocean Park series adopted a format that evoked the outer space of his Californian studio as viewed through his studio window, all lines and layered spaces of human surburbia, its topology flattened; distant space made close through surface-driven abstract painting.

Mark Rothko produced some interesting and deceptively monochromatic works late in his career and are among my favourites of his. They appeared around the same time the Moon landings were broadcast on TV and like most Rothko paintings went untitled except for a description of the 'top' (as in, assumed) colours, which were 'black on grey'. Fittingly, most people who actually had a TV at the time were likely watching the Moon landings in black and white.

These paintings evoke a sense of distant spaces brought closer together, the Moon somehow pulled even closer to home than when viewed through the lens of then-new broadcast technology. We wonder at the meaning of it all, and how close these two spaces - the living room and the Moon - have become, while Rothko found a new muse just beyond the horizon.

When Richard Long came onto the scene in the mid-1960's with his A Line Made By Walking series, he took landscape painting outdoors and archived the experience through photographs and personal notes. We examine the landscape through another medium, at once distanced yet we can dwell vicariously though Long's own experience. We don't have to be there ourselves, just know that he was. There is a sense of wonder in these interventions in nature, pathways that trace straight lines across often huge distances on barely-altered land (and often with complete disregard for barriers, borders and other obstacles, both man-made and natural, not conforming to well-trodden paths). Through these works it's hard not to think about time and space and the marks we leave long after we're gone, and how we might reach beyond ourselves.

Although made by one person, Long's land art signifies ideas bigger than just himself. It is about the marks we all leave behind. When he began bringing more elements of his experiences into the gallery - painting on walls using dirt and soil that came from his walks and reusing other gathered materials like pieces of slate to create spaces in sculpture parks - we are confronted with the outside as a physical thing: land that has been shovelled, controlled and transformed and taken out of its original context. The land has been transported to us, and we are its interventionists. 

Perhaps this is also the future of the distant landscape of the Moon.

Untitled, Black on Gray

1969, Mark Rothko

Walking A Line In Peru

1972, Richard Long

Ocean Park no. 114

1979, Richard Diebenkorn

February 2024

What is landscape?

Landscape is, quite literally, shoveled land. And so it is land that has been altered in some way by human intervention. It is an abstract mass. Landscape can also describe regions of space that make up both our inner and outer worlds. It is a mutable. It has indivisible boundaries exerting invisible influences that are our connections to the environment. It has peaks and troughs and rivers that flow within and around it. We inhabit it, and it dwells within us and is part of a shared memory, both local and massive. For these reasons I almost always work from memory as the experience of being in landscape leaves an indelible mark on the person. 

Additionally, like land paintings change over time. They undergo constant (re-)development. They become transient, a build-up of layers of lost spaces. The past gets obscured as the surface takes priority, processed via the serial influence of the preceding layers. These different spaces continually influence one another. A painting therefore is a landscape and one that bridges the inner-outer divide between us and the world. It is a way to process and visualise how the world around affects you. 

Abstract landscapes can therefore be a way to express the relationship between space and control. And perhaps also the relationship between conformity and landscape, explored through the lens of All-over painting that emerged in the mid-twentieth century.  The active attempts to cover the future past by smearing the present has contemporary political resonance. All artwork should be an interrogation into expectations and accepted norms, and can challenge ideas about conformity.

January 2024

Update: current research

I'm currently working on a project that combines landscape interventions with old photographs. The content of these photos is an emotional landscape arranged within a contrasting exterior landscape. The aim is to highlight a separation between the past and present as two separate spaces, to explore slippages between them and to uncover new significations. I hope that the work triggers a more general conversation about our connection to the environment.

Additionally, I am researching the nature of conformity and how the rejection of conformity and the impact of social dilemmas can be expressed in abstract painting. 

What is abstract painting in the age of conflict and division?

August 2023

Art Diagonale V

Residency / symposium in Wels, Austria


At the beginning of the symposium in Wels, Austria, I was engaged in creating a series of small paintings on paper that were a continuation of ideas from previous work over the past few months prior to arriving in Austria. They are a kind of automatic painting related to my surroundings. They are an important part of my process as a starting point for a way of working, engaged with both the physical application of the materials and my thinking about how to construct a piece of work. 

These initial small works are expanded into larger paintings, which are produced on the floor using acrylics. I usually work from the floor as it gives more freedom to the practice. I let the paintings develop naturally and are informed, in part, by the outside landscape as well as the inner landscape, i.e., my thought processes, feelings, mental and physical connections.

Following this are new works in progress as an example of the beginnings of a new series of works where I'm continuing to explore connections between outer and inner landscapes using contrasting imagery, and has a more personal connection. I want to show how a connection to one's past can sometimes override thinking about the present, or future. This is more directly related to the changing environment. They are remnants of a future past and a way to connect landscape and the self.