all white and well red

After my recent walks through the snow-white landscape, as documented in some of my sketchbook drawings and photographs, and the readymade art of paint colour charts, it caused me to recall a few artists who have conceptually explored the non-colour white. There is Malevich, Newman, Ryman, and even Rauschenberg, better known for his mixed media paintings or combines…

I once saw one of Rauschenberg’s white panel paintings in an exhibition on Black Mountain College, and felt sure that it had been touched-up or re-painted, infuriated as I was by its purist abstract minimalism – it both denied and transcended the object of painting.


Kazimir Malevich, Suprematist Composition: White on White 1918


Barnett Newman, The Voice 1950


Robert Ryman, No Title Required 2006

The artist David Batchelor (who I know more for his assembled colour works, and he also wrote an interesting book on colour, Chromophobia) has been documenting in photographs the white blanks of papered-over billboards and erased signage in the streets of London since 1997 – found monochomes, which I find most interesting in regard to my own humble found paintings (which perhaps I should now categorise by colour…).

He calls this ongoing series of photographs Monochromes of Modern Life, a reference to Baudelaire’s  ‘The Painter of Modern Life’. Their central void as he calls them, brings into sharp view the multi-layered patina of history surrounding them, and of the transient nature of modern life in the city, both of the buildings and their inhabitants.


David Batchelor, Monochrome #17

As painters, we can have an ambivalence with white; the absence of colour is proof of our non-doing or un-doing, of erasure or covering up. Nearly all of my paintings are constructed first in monochrome, working layers of texture without any use of colour, with colour applied later in thin, scrubby layers, echoing the manner of the slow deposits and gradual erosion of weathering and decay.

It is a very printmakerly methodology too; as a printmaker you plan, prepare and plot out the topography, creating a map or receptacle for colour, before it actually comes into physical existence in the final artwork. Back in 2004, when I first started building the large panels for what were to become my ‘edgescape’ paintings I documented them in the very first stages and called these images my lost paintings. Here is one of them (100cm square), from July of that year.


lost painting, 2004

And here, seen in January 2009, the beginnings of my farmscapes in the studio…

From white to red; a little pluglet for my inclusion in the upcoming Elements: Man and the Environment art exhibition, 26 January to 15 February 2010, at the Forum, Norwich. I was rather surprised to see, when receiving some information about the exhibition, that they have used the image of my painting on the exhibition preview invite…

and then I found my work again on the website…

red textured abstract painting
Edgescape : Rost mixed media on canvas, 95cm x 95cm

On some days I think it is a violent painting, full of fury and rage, restless, volcanic, caustic; on other days it glows with a passion, a visual feast of ripened fruit and dark wine, a spirit for life, hedonistic and undefeatable…

(read more about this red abstract painting…)

And lastly, as a footnote, it occured to me that as an artist, if one were to go down a purely conceptual route there is the high possibility that someone has thought of the idea before, as ideas are often generated by sociological or cultural influences; whereas when pursuing a more process-oriented route, then in the making of art, whether highly-crafted or poorly rendered, it will always be a one-of-a-kind.

One Comment

  1. Posted January 15, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting post, Jazz –

    I’m very much a ‘blancophile’ (?!) &, especially, a Ryman nut (obviously).

    Thanks for the introduction to David Batchelor’s project, fascinating stuff, as is, also, the further insight into your own painting process – as ‘lost paintings’, they look wonderful objects in themselves.

    Best wishes for the ‘Elements’ exhibition – the ‘rost’ painting makes me think of plums & red wine, now you come to mention it…!