I see my painting exploring ignored or discouraged options for style and themes. I see technique and iconography as continuous, shifting and manifold. My pictures advertise the array. Eclecticism or mere versatility is not enough. Clever compilations, convenient sentiments and dutiful policies, obvious myth and easy allusion are not enough. I want something more demanding, distinctive and defiant.
I am interested in the murky territory in between these things, the overtones and undercurrents, leaps and guesses, lies and mistakes; the flow to meaning in pictures that make worlds.
I see my work properly emerging towards the end of the last century, as painting returns to something like the pursuit of genres, now discerned across standard print practices, the traditional hierarchy exchanged for greater variety. Success depends on how painting identifies genre, on familiarity or relevance of genre. My work has gradually adopted a two-way strategy, adjusting technique or form to genre and vice versa. Variety to genre has become key to discerning a personal style. The style is not arbitrary or absolute; genres are not infinite or esoteric. Below I briefly review my development.
My work initially dealt in vigorous stretching of form and content in Workouts (1987-8) a series about physical fitness. Figures were built from diverse parts derived from organic, mechanical and graphic sources. The aim was to recycle or re-orientate content as form. Effectively, parts of a subject were form, the whole of form its subject. Or, a little content was form; a lot of form was content. However the results often amounted to just a rabbit-duck oscillation and fell somewhat short. The subsequent series Domestic Routines (1989-92) stretched range of sources and degree of fragmentation and often involved more elaborate settings for figures engaged in extravagant gestures to everyday routines. It certainly cancelled any neat oscillation between recognitions. The results were by no means disappointing. An extreme range of formal elements or parts arises in a number of artists from this time, ranging from Lari Pittman to Fiona Rae to Albert Oehlen. What distinguishes my use is a fragile perspective or single picture plane. The work never quite surrenders to full abstraction or some more schematic subdivision, so that figuration nags away. The theme becomes a disavowal or radical distancing from a suburban lifestyle.
The next series, Car People (1992-95) pursued this alienation on more sombre terms and greatly simplified parts for drivers in and around their cars. Yet the simplification did not bring any greater familiarity or coherence. On the contrary, stricter means inspire a greater elusiveness or displacement for subject. In terms of scale, proportion, spatial orientation and tonal values, the work builds starker, more obtuse glimpses; blurs and compounds some qualities to a subject, scatters others, places a premium upon a gestalt or holistic orientation, indeed circumstance. Construction is thus just as abstract, as distancing or estranging as preceding series. Here a certain kind of driver is rendered profoundly disconnected or as outsider, even to the norms of depiction.
The spectral quality, of shifting and conflicting aspects to a subject need not be entirely a matter of picturing. The next series, Deep Shopping (1996-7) turned to a subject that in itself is markedly illusory – retail display. Here, presentation builds ‘looks’ for retail goods that similarly acquire and highlight certain qualities according to angle, lighting and props. In the series, shopper and mannequin become interchangeable, depending on setting or props. This play between deliberate presentation and pictorial representation is pursued through subsequent series, Acquired Taste (1996-7) dealing with food presentation, Serenades (1997-98) dealing with pop singers, Sculptures (1999-2000) paintings of public sculptures and Cityicity (Part 1: 2000, Part 2: 2012) with period urban architecture. Each series draws closer to a photographic genre in content allows slight adjustment to my approach and resulting mood. But essentially I still work from photographic sources that suggest drastic reorientation and approximate interpretation as a novel subject. This has been augmented in various ways with the adoption of digital means but the formal convictions remain the same – converting content to form and vice versa. Essentially I treat photographs in the same way Leonardo treated stains on walls.
While estrangement and deception are involved in all of the work to some extent, they are extended in different ways, express different attitudes or moods. Acquired Taste and Serenades for example, appeal to olfactory and auditory senses and are less about estrangement than seduction or an effusive charm offensive. They coax a synaesthesia or overwhelming ambience. Other series, such as Likeness (1999) – ten portraits of famous artists and intellectuals – concentrate squarely on the issue of facial resemblance and its persistence even in severe stylization, so that personality somehow transcends the most austere of forms. It has been remarked that this amounts to caricature but I see no ridicule in my approach. A following series Closeups (1999-2000) of fifteen ‘movie characters’ (again, basically just heads) probably comes closer to caricature. There is a more light-hearted side to the work. Privacy (2005-14) is devoted to the female nude in domestic interiors where the degree of fragmentation is more restrained, the effect more spontaneous and playful and together with the small scale of the paintings, enhances an intimacy rather than apprehension. The approach thus demonstrates an expressive as well as thematic range. The pictorial dissonance may be applied to less familiar or traditional themes. Digital means are more prominent in Crusade Culture (2009-10) and Decline (2013) where civic strife and social decay are registered as a structural irresolution, not so much estranged or deceptive as unstable, corrupted. Series such as Encryption, Endangered Species and Camouflage each find other metaphors for this structure; extend the scope of the project.
More recent series have expanded themes to include historical events (Swaggie) and cinematic allusion (Good-Luc Godard) to underline political or social commitments (Activists, Pass Words). On this last point, notice that throughout my development technical or formal issues are carried through to theme or content (or vice versa). Since my work shuns doctrinaire issues of identity and cultural correctness, neglect from critical and curatorial quarters is only to be expected. My aesthetic ambivalence thus extends all the way to cultural policy, accepts the price of conservative times.
Painting scrutinises standard pictorial practices and tests accepted categories of content and style. The resources of painting are demonstrated into the bargain. I am interested in how variation of content when extended enough, becomes variation on a kind of picture or style. Conversely, I am interested in when style is varied enough it delivers a different kind of subject or content. In other words, I see the two things as continuous, any line drawn between them as a convention, open to reconstruction.
My pictures thus juggle versions and court some confusion. I try to make the resulting contrasts within and across pictures as interesting and vivid as possible, to make this aspect foremost. The range is unusually wide, I hope distinctive, but not arbitrary. Hopefully it prompts consideration of less obvious themes and stylistic consistency.