The Fringe Benefit of Intention: Chris Worfold, A View of the Woods, White Canvas Gallery, October, 2015.
Published Tuesday 28 June 2016, Chris Worfold (edited by Simon Marsh).
I think that what you’re searching for as an artist is to be able to visualise something that you know but haven’t yet seen. I know that this is a contradiction, perhaps even a paradox and yet I see it manifesting throughout all of my work, particularly in relation to the motives and motifs that repeat as they have done throughout my visual arts practice. It’s taking the familiar toward the unfamiliar in adding to the conversations that have preceded the finished object.
I feel environments can profoundly affect you as an artist. For example, I’ve recently moved back into Brisbane following a series of residencies in New York. Now without running an artistic comparison between these two cities what I’ve come to realise is the overwhelming zeitgeist associated with plugging back into a city environment. This cannot help but intrinsically affect you as an artist. Before this move I was living a semi-rural lifestyle and interestingly since I’ve returned to Brisbane I’ve started painting works that are somewhat landscape oriented that seemingly reflect nature and more specifically and somewhat strangely, the back-yard. I guess you could say that for me, things such as the sky and urban surrounds have become more impactful since this return. However, for myself it remains that the objects and things floating within the matrix of an urban experience is what I’m interested in exploring. And yet this myriad of floating objects and vistas are never fixed. So in this sense it is not a single place or situation that I’m trying to create an image of. It’s more of an articulated expression of transience.
I’ve never adhered to the conceited nature swirling around the notion of an artistic full stop, specifically with regard to the medium of painting. That form of lexicality for me has never articulated what a medium can or cannot express at any given moment throughout history.
Whilst I’m keenly aware that many artists restrict or narrow their focus down to a singular theme, I am not that kind of artist. I am not the kind of artist who repeats a theme with slight variations throughout their career. There are simply multiple recurring themes evidenced throughout my work that are indicative of where I exist professionally. These themes have a multitude of motives that inevitably lead me toward entertaining oscillating motifs. And it is this dynamic that I put to work in the elongation of a medium specific artistic conversation.
That said, there are always moments in my painting practice when fascination will take hold and lead me to become focused on someone or something. In this case I completely control the paint to get some form of memetic likeness. However throughout the works exhibited in A View of the Woods you can clearly see a deliberate destruction of the preceding iconography, leaving in its wake an indexical mark of the artist’s hand. The incontrovertible knowledge that the artist has in fact been here, calls into question whether we appreciate the painting as an image or an object.
As an arts educator I understand the importance of being aware of the socio political position in which you reside and the art historical theory that situates your work. Hopefully I enable students to embrace this. However when we take a broad look at professional arts practise we can clearly see that some artists directly engage with theory as a source for the works production whilst others entertain motivations that lie outside of theoretical stratagems.
I feel that both of these positions and everything in between are completely valid. An artist doesn’t have to reach for one particular outcome, doesn’t have to incorporate one particular way of working or indeed one particular way of thinking to achieve a desired outcome. Whilst theory is important it is simply one of many artistic conventions that once understood can quite easily be discarded as an artistic motivator.
I feel that my practice is set now. It is not young work anymore. After more than twenty years exhibiting as a professional artist I understand what I want and where the work is going. My practice – this act of painting – is really for others to decide whether it is art or not. And whilst I’m a technically proficient and well-trained painter – there’s not much that I can’t do within the medium – I find myself increasingly trying to let the medium do what it ‘wants’ to do. I find myself simply getting out of the way of the process of its becoming.
For me thought happens between the sessions on a painting – you do strategise particular meanings and their outcomes endeavouring to determine what the semiotic fallout of a particular colour or the placement of a particular mark will be – however, I feel that to think too deeply, to over- strategise or to break a work down into an intellectual process is counter-intuitive to its production and quite often threatens the purity of an artistic intention.
It’s a well worn cliché that the Visual Arts is hard to talk about, it isn’t. In saying that, I personally tend to err toward a Jungian understanding of artistic processes in that, for myself it all seems to stem from the unconscious. And it is here – in the possibility of the metaphysical – that I believe we can begin to discover the real grist of what is happening within an artistic practice. It’s not to say that I disagree with the academic processes, however, it is simply not a motivator for me throughout the painting process. Academic processes certainly have their place in that they are often a series of events that rightfully follow the material event of an intentional artistic action.
Now there are lots of people who question artists by asking…”how do you know when you’re finished?” As a practitioner I don’t think it’s really a valid question. Finishing a painting is simply a matter of arriving at a particular point where there is nothing left to do and anything further you could do would be damaging. And yet it is also an intriguing question in that I will finish paintings and then destroy them and paint over the top of them again. So it’s something you have to be satisfied with, and after the process, a painting does need to reach a level of aesthetic and intellectual satisfaction.
So all of my paintings have at least two paintings if not three paintings underneath them. And my paintings always have these layers, so in one sense there is a lot of thought that goes into them because I completely obliterate them at some point and start again. There is some point in the process where I think that is satisfying or that is ambiguous enough, or that is the right thing in the right place and then all of those elements cohesively come together and stop.
Profiling ideas and concepts in art is like perspective in drawing. In drawing, ruled perspective runs the risk of inhibiting your gesture and your working processes. It’s good to know it, absorb it and then release yourself from it. Importantly today we’re looking for the thing that is different, the thing that is out of alignment, but it needs to be different or out of alignment in just the right way. So again we are met with a series of paradoxes.
Visual art is ultimately very immediate, it’s a visual sensation generating a range of emotional and intellectual responses and whilst you may approach contemporary art by utilising highly structured academic processes the levels of sophistry involved in the historical discipline often overrule the subjective physical experience of art.
For me a painting is always indexical. It always has the mark or thumbprint or the intentional gesture of the artist within it. As an artist I’m interested in the overlapping of the icon, the index and the symbol. These types of signs are not discreet entities in my work. Now when you put all of that into a frame, composition or spatial arrangement is key isn’t it? It’s never arbitrary in terms of what goes where. Every detail or sign within a painting bears a relationship with the next and so on in cyclical encounters. It’s something I think I’ve always been interested in, in the how and why things relate to each other, as an artist, as a curator, and simply as a human being.
I photocopied a selection of quotes by Julian Schnabel and included them in the catalogue piece for this show specifically for the reason that Schnabel talked about his work as being a decipherable material fact. Everything you need to know is right there in the work. There is no need to explain it, you can literally piece it together in your own way and make your own analysis of it and come up with your own interpretation of the thing. I think that this is ultimately the reality, that when you go into spaces and look at things without didactics and accompaniments, then you’re really just reading the space and the objects within that space. And you can see that there are always objects or works that cut through, works that are masterfully produced or clumsily produced, as you can still hold a mastery over an artistic clumsiness.
And so Schnabel was painting on truck tarpaulins in the 1980’s and I was always interested in that aspect to his work. When my grandfather died I found a couple of canvas tarpaulins under his house and I started using those as painting canvas. It has always been important to me that what I’m painting on has a history, that it has already had a life outside of my artistic use of it. In this way my paintings become palimpsests. They are connected to experiences beyond my own. Even if it’s not immediately visible it lends tactile authenticity to the work. It’s not terribly rebellious of course. And although the motivator for using these tarps inhabits a more personal experience, art historically, it’s impossible not to make the connection with artists like Antoni Tapies or Julian Schnabel.
The large scale expressionist works on tarpaulins that I’ve presented here need to work as both close-ups and at a distance. I’m talking here of the 3 x 2 meter canvases, but I think all paintings need to function as both images and objects. Although these works are very physical, and nothing compares to seeing them in ‘reality’, the reality is that in our contemporary culture they are required to withstand fragmentation and to accommodate new digital contexts. These days they need to translate to mobile phone resolution. I find this very interesting and it is undoubtedly having an influence on how I now approach painting.
All of these observations we’ve been talking about are primarily conventions. Painting is a convention, hanging paintings in a white walled space is a convention. You can do whatever you want within these conventions as long as you understand them. You can also smash them wide open if you choose but I’ve always seen conventions simply as tools to be used.
It’s about getting closer to that image in your mind. That said, I think as an artist you’re forever dissatisfied and in a sense you never reach your destination. But the destination is never what you really want anyway. It’s the journey involved in trying to breach the distance that is satisfying. This grouping of artworks is really an acceptance and a pursuit of that philosophy.
An embracing of the known and unknown, this exhibition doesn’t inhabit a pre-ordained theoretical trajectory. I’m not making these paintings to establish a postmodern or indeed a meta-modern position as a marker of where we are placed within a linear understanding of history or my leanings as a socio-political individual. You could say that all of this is inherent in the medium of painting and through direct association, in my privilege as being a painter. Really I’m just endeavouring to become more intuitive as an artist through the application of the work, and while the goals of what I’d like to achieve exist, I really try to not do anything until it ‘feels’ right.
For me good work is born from a combination of the head, heart and hand. The hand will always be a willing participant however if you’re just thinking and not feeling then you always arrive at a substandard outcome. Without this alignment the work will never be any good or come together in any real or lasting way and I try not to exhibit work that I don’t think is any good.
It is the nature of my practice that it will evolve and change. And if you consider like I do, that style is a fringe benefit of intention then it stands to reason that a singular intention will lead to a signature style. Yet it will always be the nature of my practice that my artistic intentions will evolve and change as I pursue what it is that I’m pursuing at any one particular time. As a result I will always have ongoing and mutable ambitions and successes.
Now in saying that I still do consider my work as having achieved a certain signature style. When I hung this show last night I was thinking that this is just so me, so indicative of what it is I do and yet when I talk to people who have followed my exhibiting history they always refer to just how much the works have evolved and changed. I’m fairly forthright about this and it’s simply not a concern of mine.
I can understand that it may be of some concern to somebody who is trying to represent a product however at the end of the day for me it’s more about honouring authentic intentions. What I find interesting in all of this is the sense of an historical erasure that I experienced in New York. Over there it’s really about who you are and what you’re doing now, not who you were and what you’ve done.
I think that if you’re having fun and enjoying the work then you’re aware of your own intentionality. Which leads us to this particular show here at White Canvas, which is the most satisfying show I’ve ever hung and that’s never happened before: where every piece feels intrinsically right and in its place.
But to qualify this, as an artist you always think that every show you have is representative of your best work, however, you never really know. I like to give the works a six month cooling off period before committing to any grandiose statements. Having said that, it certainly feels like the most mature show I’ve ever hung and that’s a great place to be. I think it’s very representative of who I am and where I’m situated as an artist.
Published Tuesday 28 June 2016, Chris Worfold (edited by Simon Marsh).