[This interview was adapted from the original one conducted by Brian Sherwin, writer and art critic, in 2008. It is included here in response to more recent requests for information on inspirations and influences on the art. ~September 2012]
Go to Part 1 of the interview.
BS: So what are the specific social implications of your art? Is there a specific message that you strive to convey to viewers?
PR: Before I could devote more hours to studio practice, I spent years working in a regulated, technology driven environment. For me, being involved in the ritual of painting is a way of resisting this tendency of contemporary culture and experience, of provoking a shift in the opposite direction; a shift from the generic, transient and virtual experience of technology, towards the specific, hand-crafted and material one of making and engaging in art. I want for my work to provoke reflection on the importance of this in our lives, to affirm that art making is not self-indulgence. It is fundamentally linked to our capacity and need for a broader aesthetic, social and cultural awareness.
I believe this to be an instinctive human aspiration.
BS: Tell us more about your painting process.. The methods and techniques that you utilize. Do you work from preliminary drawings or would you say that your work is very intuitive, so to speak?
PR: I often begin with source drawings, perhaps life drawings or I will engage a model for a series of studies. I can’t recall ever painting preliminary small-scale versions of works in order to test things. Instead I prefer to map out a few options with charcoal first, photocopying and considering variations. The method is to pursue broad mental outlines and then begin under-painting, knocking back areas with a rag or palette knife as required. Sometimes whole areas of the painting are scraped or sanded back. It sounds labour intensive, and it is, but I go with what feels the most instinctive way of working. I think with painting there is is a time for charging, confronting the work, and times to quietly retreat to regenerate and draw inspiration from other sources.
Photos also play an important part. It’s a method I use for reviewing and studying paintings throughout their development, though I don’t do this with all of them. That would just seemed too engineered. Photographic references allow me to consider where major shifts have taken place and so give me an opportunity to re-integrate those aspects back into the work – it is only a trigger…
Paintings need breathing space, so after days of working on one thing I just turn it away from me. I don’t want it in the studio again until I can walk past it and see something that hasn’t struck me before; a gesture, a sensation; consideration about scale, the time to locate weak points in the image that requires some response. So it’s a kind of dialogue, an important one that allows painting to be an exploratory act, interlocking with life; one that insists on making demands of your critical faculties. Without that aspect painting just risks becoming hideous decor.
BS: What attracted you to painting?
PR: I guess it was the idea of being able to physically respond to an over active imagination through what seemed like a basic ritual. Repeated moments of observation, intimacy, memory, and the physicality of ‘constructing’ something as a human response to this with very basic tools. Just a brush, paint and some canvas. It carries the allure of high risk too, of having much to gain if you can work through the uncertainty, resistance or frustration one feels when an image is locked inside and has yet to find its way out of you. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to childbirth.
The intensity of this lends itself to painting for long periods, keeping my own company perhaps in much the same way a writer does; I rarely move paint in the presence of a model or sitter. It feels so intensely personal, and vulnerable that having others in the same room when painting is just not how it rolls. Though I had a new sitter visit recently and I imagined painting with them in the room. Perhaps that will influence a change.
BS: Can you discuss some of your other influences?
PR: As a student I spent countless hours observing and drawing people on public transport and stations; More often now the observation occurs in cafes, bars, restaurants, anywhere public really. The work is also influenced by my responses to contemporary news imagery, film and photography, perhaps subconsciously in ways that affect mood, composition and light sources. At other times the work is a complete reaction against some of the conventions of photography, and a slight distrust of its seductive immediacy. I’m not denigrating photography here as an art form, simply contrasting it with the appeal of the plastic arts – physical output that can in themsevles embody and convey human experience through their unique condition. Painting is a language that may be informed but will never be supplanted by film or photography; each has its own place in contemporary experience.
I’m often asked about the identity of people in the work. For the most part, I don’t set out to make ‘portraits’ of individuals. When I look back over source material and studies, be they drawings or photographs, I note that often the end result represents a kind of fusion of people I’ve known, and encounters I’ve had; some formally in the studio, others more transient and inconsequential at the time but which unconsciously work their way into drawings or paintings. This approach, unhinged from any preconceptions about individuality or gender, allows me to make changes more freely. It reminds me of something I read recently:
“Today we are less transparent than ever before; the tension between the interior and exterior of our own image endures…” (Francisco C. Serraller, The Mirror and the Mask)
For me it’s this process of encountering and working through tensions and ambiguity in painting, in human identity and representation, the openness and freedom of it, which keeps me hooked into contemporary experience and culture.
BS: What are you working on at this time? Can you give our readers some insight into your current or forthcoming work?
I have more works on the go, and for those familiar my work they won’t be surprised they’re slow-cooking, but I hope they are worth the wait.
Brian Sherwin is an American art critic, writer, and blogger. Sherwin is a founding Management Team member of the artist social networking site myartspace, where he also served as Senior Editor for six years. As Senior Editor for myartspace.com Sherwin established an extensive interview series with emerging and established visual artists. Sherwin currently writes for FineArtViews.