HIGH OCTANE: a different kind of energy for painting.
I want to explore the idea of using high tension within the body - and transferring it onto a surface - as a source for a painting.
Have you ever imagined what such a painting might look like? The following painting is the result of this process:
How did this come about? The trigger was an art therapy day called 'Giving feelings a form', held in my studio on 12 March 2011. The preliminary exploration that took place at this event led me to a feeling that's been with me all of my life and helped me to become aware of the effect it has on my body.
The first challenge was to identify its form. I examined the feeling and recognised that it travels up and down my spine in a straight line. When the spine gets 'filled up', the 'overflow' gains momentum and fills up the spaces in the joints - the ankles, knees, elbows, wrists, fingers and, on rare occasions, the back of my neck.
The second challenge was to give this feeling a colour. On the art therapy day I had used black, green, red and some yellow on a large sheet of packing paper. However, since the feeling is so intense, my overwhelming thought was now to create the piercing colour that emanates from a halogen bulb. I began to experiment with blues, purples, white, etc, but these colours did not speak to me of high tension.
The next day I placed the art-therapy-day painting in a good viewing place. I spent the next few days just looking and allowing my 'intuitive eye' to flow over it, with the colour challenge in the forefront of my thoughts. This action to me represents the beginning of a dialogue between me and the painting. It is where the intuitive free-flow starts and will
take me along the journey of a painting from beginning to end. It is also the moment when the personal ego prepares to withdraw to allow the creative ego to step forward and do its work.
I left the initial painting and the intuitive part of myself in this space for a couple of weeks - a form of 'sitting and waiting' for the right moment.
During this period I was waiting for the 'frisson' - an indication that 'the time has come'. Frisson is a French word to describe a shiver that travels through the whole body. The experience, for me, arrives with a restlessness accompanied by a very high level of tension (my tutor in art school called this 'a visit from the muses'). This means living, eating and sleeping with these feelings as I pour myself into my work.
Then one morning, I woke up with the feeling that the 'moment' had arrived. I was awakened by a 'frisson'; now that the 'muses' had arrived, whatever was on the agenda was set aside and serious work began!
In the studio, I began where I left off on the art therapy day. On the same paper, with the same painting, I began to experiment with a high, intense yellow on the red-green-black background that was already present. I applied thin layers of this yellow, followed by a red glaze, and then reapplied the yellow. When I reached the level of intensity on paper that truly reflected the tension I was feeling in my body, I stopped and allowed the painting and my intuitive-self to 'rest'.
I find that the creative restlessness comes and goes in waves. Among other things, I notice a change in the use of colours. However, tension has a 'sell-by date' and begins to dissipate. As I am not finished, I have to find a way of keeping it alive. This time I used the music of Górecki, and found that the wave motion stopped and the tension settled in again.
And then I noticed a change in colour:
And finally, I was out of this phase:!!
And the body of work comes to an end.
To produce these works I spent two weeks painting solidly, almost night and day.
The next period is spent 'sitting' with the paintings. This is a period of looking with a critical eye to discern whether or not each painting is finished. This is also the period where I have stepped back into myself. The intuitive-flow is no longer present so any changes made to the painting are from a personal ego and this has nothing to do with painting.
Between these periods of heightened tension and creative restlessness, I experience times when my creativity is subdued but I am waiting for the muses to return. I call these periods of 'hunting and gathering', as I am getting myself and my studio together so I am ready when I experience that 'frisson'.
This period involves 'clearing the decks' and preparing materials; boards, paint and four or five sets of palette knives. I order my paint by intuition, studying the art material catalogue, going over and over colours from past experience or that are entirely new to me and hoping I have got it right.
This phase can last several months, but before this particular body of work - the 'High Octane' series - it was almost a year.