December 2015-February 2016
39 DIGITAL SKETCHES ON THE THEME OF ROBOTIC FIGURES
In theory, last year’s work led smoothly to a series of wilderness landscapes at this point. In practice, the ideas are not quite there yet. Instead I’ve switched back to the figure. I began thinking about the female nudes in Privacy Paintings and the simplicity to the pictures, born of traditional drawing rather than Photoshop. Some of that has been missing. I decided to devise some sort of male counterparts and see if Photoshop could be a little less fussy. Instead of nudes the figures are heavily dressed and engaged in outdoor activities. They are opposites in every respect. They perform mostly menial tasks from construction and maintenance to security and policing, very much in the public domain. There is, all the same, an implicitly macho and sexual element to many of the poses and tasks. I didn’t have to search hard to find source material confirming this aspect. A second strand blends various protective gear and equipment with robots. They are the ultimate body extension. Robots have occasionally appeared in my work since art school. I’ve always liked their role in science fiction and movies, essentially as a metaphor for dutiful slave or servant. My ideas owe more to John Sladek than Isaac Asimov. Here I’ve often used games and toys as source material, underlining the deeply entrenched appeal to unpaid help.
These are sketches for paintings, ideally around 110 X 90 cm in size; all are ‘portrait’ or a vertical format. There are a lot of them again because Photoshop offers so many permutations to a composition. But I’m only publishing about a third of the actual output. The selection has steered consistency to theme. I don’t delete rejects, always imagining at some point there may be a way to use them.
More notes at the bottom of the page.
In terms of form, the series rarely achieves the simplicity of the Privacy Paintings, but a full-length figure to the foreground was a useful return to basics and measure of how far I’ve come. And there is still scope for greater reduction as paintings. That is always anticipated. More elaborate settings and robotic figures were always going to complicate things, but I’m content with the trade-off, with a somewhat rougher, grittier or grainier approach. What I really wanted was tonalities doing the job of line here, or the exchange of traditional drawing for digital means. Where a computer has really changed the way I work is in greater care with colour. Because Photoshop breaks down colour options into spectrum, saturation and brightness, all manner of harmonies are promptly available. In fact there are almost too many options. This has been the thing I’ve learned most about over the past year.
Robots bring with them interesting formal issues, in that they are essentially people conceived on mechanical terms, reduced to simple volumes and planes, a bit like Cubism for engineers. The link definitely inspired many of the grey blue and earthen colour schemes to settings. While there are many kinds of actual robots, they also remain largely the fiction of movies and graphics. Hence the familiar stylistic blend from picture to object is at play. More continuity is offered in the dissonance between people treated as machines and work as martial service – a theme throughout much of the last five or six years. Settings, while notably open or public, suggest as much demolition as construction, as much protection as threat and give the figures a murkier, more dubious role. In terms of theme, the series is really a tangent to Decline (where robots also appeared) with the decay now to identity or de-personalisation, a slide to coercion and intimidation. That makes it sound grim but there is a lighter, more comic side. The figures are often so lumbering and ineffective, rather posturing or insecure. Where the Privacy nudes are mostly playful and knowing, the Robo men are often bungling and inflexible. There was the possibility of Robo women of course, but these await another occasion.