Monday, 20 October 2008

Still concerned... about landscapes

I've been trying to work through some of the mess of the previous post: too much jumbled together, and answering to Steph's comment, some of that became a bit clearer.

Study Plains 3_1
Study Plains 3_1
15x10cm, Gouache on Board

Landscape paintings: Does it matter where YOU stand? As observer, onlooker, artist, master of the painting to be? Because, eventually, you don't stand anywhere yet everywhere: all that anyone looking at the painting can see is the vista constructed by you, but you being left outside the frame (literally so).

I'm transposing social science arguments on reflexivity, standpoint and a critique of the all-knowing scientist onto my paintings. And I'm struck by the actual process in which in particular that God trick as Donna Haraway talked about it is at play when I paint - only what I see and regard as important makes it into the painting and yet I am not there.

Well, I am there only by proxy: sloppy brushwork, poor composition, shades in the wrong places etc.

Which probably takes me onto the next point to consider: with the God trick, the artist is simultaneously elevated into this creative, perceptive, tortured (?), expressive individual that does all these great/rubbish pieces of art. Person-making and individuality probably struggle to find more receptive recipients than artists - and also academics and politicians? Strangely enough, I landed squarely in the middle of two of these fields. ... But that is for another post.

But back to the God trick: this ties back to the critique of the construction of landscapes as 'naturally there', well, that's nature, what you see, what is, stupid! - nope, they are not, they are made - by onlookers, often powerful ones, to turn rural poverty in pitoresque pastoral scenes; or construct Williams' knowable communities as those which consist of the right people living sort of nearby.

This leaves two further items to examine:

- nature without people? nature v people? naturepeople? As something about subject matter. [discussed in this post here]

- something much more mundane: how to translate a 'not-framing' into composition? Into composition of landscapes in particular - rather than action painting a la abstract expressionism or similar (that is clearly one answer, though, isn't/wasn't it?); and to explore how paintings without background could counter such framing? But then there are lots of more questions:
  • Would that not merely mean that the middleground becomes the background?
  • How does dis/orientation work between different planes?
  • What role does perspective have in this?
  • Viewpoints? Angles? Distortions?
  • etc
There you go,... that should keep me busy...


Yellow said...

Heck, lots to chew on there. Hang on while I open another window so I can check back what you've written while I write too...... dum de dum..... Big leap from this post to your next post, where you talk in one about solely drawing people/figures/portraits. But in this post you commit yourself to this landscape project. Sounds like you have unresolved issues with landscapes which you want to resolve before you can move onto figures with a clear conscience (love the torso painting by the way - I could live with that on my wall as it is. So tense, in a muscular way).
I get your point about the God trick, though I could kick you under the table for only picking out negatives as clues to the painter. Your work is very recognisable, you communicate a great understanding of the structure of things, and your colour choices are always very you. I love the idea of the foreground and mid ground only, and no, I don't think that painting that way would automatically tranform the midground into the distance. It's all about scale and perpective as you said. If the landscapes are composed in such a way that the viewer has a sense of the landscape extending beyong the picture plane then they will be aware that outside of this limited view is a distance, horizon, sky etc. In the same way that some landscapes are painted to be very self contained, eg trees either side frame the view and keep you 'inside' the small haven of the landscape they are depicting. Whereas other landscapes are painted with roads leading out of view, or strong directional lines in the composition that lead obvoiusly beyond the picture plane. Talking about the viewer's and painter's viewpoint, I would argue that this is critical. Maybe a solution to this new viewpoint would be to either to view the landscape from very low down, or alternately view the landscape from high up looking down on a limited area, with the picture frame only catching the near and middle distance.
I think it's something you're going to have to try out. It's a very strong and original compositional concept and I'm very very excited by it.

Gesa said...

Steph, just to follow up some of the things here in addition to the email.

Yes - there is something about the composition of the landscape - it's enframing that keeps troubling me;

There is also something about what it communicates/tries to communicate about being/becoming with/in/by landscape... there's nature there too, somewhere but that's even trickier, isn't it?

As the more recent post states: part of that communication is about emotions/states of affairs as presuming landscape as wild/ yet 'innocent'/pastoral/unspoilt/uninterfered with?? - I think my problems with that assumption is an obvious route towards Eardley and indeed de Stael. There's nothing innocent/serene in there.

The viewpoint/horizon line: I have been playing with different viewpoints: high up, very low to keep shifting horizon line above or below the picture plane. It doesn't do away with it though, does it? It still is there - visible or not. Or: indeed, other lines are taking its place (as in Vivien's splashdown sketch); Dissolving those markers of orientation then makes for abstraction: landscapes not reading/operating as such.

I wonder what other markers demarcate 'landscapes' - your sister's comment on 'which side's up' is a good one on this: I had acouple of incidental pieces which would read both as a figure drawing and a landscape depending which direction you would hold it up.

But, yes, I think you're right: trying to figure out in what ways this - landscapes - matters, but also what the rules are, and what happens if they are stretched/undone; expectations defied and assumptions wronged.