How this painting was put together
It is difficult for any artist to be truly honest about a piece of their work. This is partly due to the creation process – an artist lives and breathes their work from inception through creation and beyond and lives all the emotions throughout.
The ability to be far enough away from the painting to be able to make subjective and critical comment about it is difficult. Every stroke, every movement of the wrist echoes through your mind once the piece is hanging. Sometimes you cannot detach yourself from this – and that is the dilemma we all face when being subjective.
When I was planning Octavaruim I was adamant I wanted to create something that had no black in it. Black is so final and definite that it would have been a whole lot easier to add dimension and substance to the painting by including this, or another dark colour. I chose the hard option – nothing deeper than French blue.
In fact there are only three colours in the painting anyway – this being the next serious challenge I faced; giving substance and body to a 6ft tall painting with yellow, blue and orange. This is further compounded by the fact that blending enamel paints together is tricky anyway – they are not designed to be mixed like acrylics or oils.
They are industrial coatings for painting bridges and boats with, not canvas paintings. Balance and structure mean everything in these circumstances.
Which leads me to the next challenge: composition. If you stand over a canvas and fling paint around without thought for where, what and how I guarantee it will look appalling. I have seen it happen to people who are far more talented than me. Planning, even roughly, is a must or the painting will be doomed.
I decided I needed some underpinning structure to the painting so I opted for a split between solid blue arcs and lighter orange circles. These have been cleverly placed in opposing areas and then partly obscured by further applications over the top. I did it this way so I could still maintain coherence of the structure whilst breathing life and action into the uppermost layer.
Here comes the balance word again; I can’t let too much of one application take over else you begin to miss all the others.
Structure and Balance
When I work on very small parts of the painting I use very small tools to apply paint: pencils, syringes and even cocktail sticks. I can get the paint to go exactly where I want it using these methods. Time and patience need to be in great reserve to do something like this. So attention to detail is another reason why this is such a monumental piece for me. You could take a few square inches at a time and each one would make a painting in its own right – such is the density of detailing in this piece. I have never produced a painting with so much patternation and intricacy. It almost has to become obsessive.
For such a complex yet easy-coloured painting Octavarium poses some very interesting questions. I have deliberately held certain parts of it together with a heavy use of light blue, especially over the left-hand side and created a basic structure in a figure of eight. I was probably mad to conceive that I could split the piece into two whilst still fooling you into thinking it is one but somehow I have managed to do just that.
The figure of eight is distinctive but you have to follow it closely to understand why it is there. This was blended very carefully so it became part of the fabric of the foreground whilst becoming a significant bracing point for the background. This is in turn offset by the right hand side of the painting which contains very little structure with this kind of shape; yet the two sides are seamless.
The way I achieved this was to use a second underpinning of orange circles to help bring some vibrancy and motion to the painting. Careful blending of certain mixing agents has allowed me a degree of flexibility to control the flow of the paint as it hits the canvas. Crucially though it is the volume applied at every stroke that hides the real depth and beauty of this painting.
The vast array of tools and techniques I have used, sometimes decided upon in an instant and sometimes over hours, have served to create a visceral contortion of vibrancy and paradox that you cannot help but be completely drawn in by, whether you actually like it or not.
How to read this painting
The one thing I never wanted to create was an example of a technical triumph – I wanted as much passion and beauty to evolve as possible. This is the other side of the painting.
Like with so many drip paintings, particularly those of Jackson Pollock, the notion of what becomes beautiful can get lost in translation. Part of the problem with this is the idea that there should be some kind of evolved figuration in the painting to help your brain decide whether you like it or not.
When this is removed it becomes more and more difficult to connect with it. If you can get away from the idea that the flow and mix of the paint has to look like something then you can begin to delve into the hidden majesty of this painting.
It is, after all, void of all the normal things you expect to see in a painting and full of intricate twist and turns, ebbs and flows and true to the honest, raw techniques that the Abstract Expressionists used during one of the most defining periods in Modern Art.