On making Thrown World

 (Transcript of floor talk for Colour Bazaar exhibition at Heide Museum of Modern Art, 2011.)

I’d like to speak about the relation of colour to abstraction in my work, and about the challenges involved in making abstract pictures. In this way I hope to elucidate some of the process involved in making this painting.

Colour is the chief protagonist in my work. I am interested in colour as a subject because it has elemental power, it is radiant energy. To tackle colour I find it necessary to make abstract pictures. One reason for this is simply that it reduces noise so you can focus on what the colour is doing, not what it’s lending itself to.

The other great thing about abstract pictures is that is that there are no rules. There’s nothing to say how it should look, what colour it should be, where the process should start and end. Take a still life for example. Although there is a lot of scope for experimentation, the need to maintain the legibility of the subject imposes a restriction. Abstraction provides a necessary freedom to experiment with colour relationships without that restriction.

This freedom throws up an immediate and daunting problem. Without any ‘thing’ to refer to, how do you even start making a picture? If you chose to make pictures of nudes or still life’s for example, there are a whole lot of questions about formal structure and spatial organization that are answered. But with an abstract picture there is nothing to start with; you have to make something out of nothing. Something that allows colours to interact, that has force and momentum, that is rational yet playful. It has to be focused and clean with room for unexpected incident.

This drama of making something out of nothing is the narrative that shapes most of my work.  With Thrown World I have used that narrative as the basis for a formal structure that allows colours to interact, and gives the composition momentum to swing from one end of the picture plane to the other.

The tilt of the canvas is catalyst to the movement of the composition; together they suggest a springing motion from a state of rest to almost airborne propulsion.

The composition is made up of a series of steps that rationally presupposes the next, which results in that sweep from one side to the other. The form allows the colour to linger side by side in uninterrupted lengths. It is not unlike a stripe painting, but I hope that you will notice that these are something quite different to stripes. This is a specific form that is repeated and overlapped from one end to the next. The forms chase each other across the canvas, and this is how the idea of motion is conveyed. Think of the motion studies of Marey, Muybridge, Duchamp, and Balla.

The colour also transforms in gradual steps. It describes a transformation from light to dark, and a brief red incident that occurs along the way. However the overall effect of the colour interaction is not just a linear trajectory. It does follow the movement of the form, yet the gradual change in colour value also makes the elements blur into a single cloudy mass that annihilates the formal structure. This cloud might be allowed to dominate, if not for the little ‘thorns’ that pierce through the blur (because they interrupt the colour sequence) and bring your attention back to the structure.

This brings me to the heart of my interest in colour: instability. Surrounding colours can drastically change the way an individual colour is read. This in turn changes the surrounding colours, and the effect continually cascades throughout the whole picture and destabilizes an otherwise solid structure.  These interactions are an exciting subject for painting because they occur while you look at the picture. They make it fully present in the time and place that you are looking at it, and emphasises that paint is only a midpoint between physical matter and radiant energy.

Bryan Spier May 2011


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