Surface was a collection of object-paintings that explored the concept of the surface, shown here in Gayfield Creative (a one-off display in Edinburgh). Created using non-traditional methods and painted on unconventional surfaces, these repetitive and layered artworks are unified by their exclusive depiction of water. From heavily layered oil paintings created outdoors over several years, to miniature gouache artworks painted on matchboxes or coffee-grinder drawers.
The exhibition featured images of water surveyed whilst travelling: the Atlantic from Cádiz, the Adriatic from Dalmatia, the Mediterranean from Liguria. Many were abstracted visions of the English Channel ('Mor breizh') – the strip of water I must cross to reach France, Belgium, Spain and Italy – where I sourced the materials and supports from which these works were made. From Paris’ plethora of antique shops to Brussels’ frequent flea-markets, I sourced and gathered every-day items (wooden, metal, and paper planes) suitable to be transformed in the studio.
These are artworks made from ordinary objects that speak of function and familiarity: tabletops, drawer bases, trunk lids, roadsigns, books & papers. Aged items and objects that describe a lifetime of use in their worn grains – a kind of repetition that is mirrored in the marks of each piece, the obsessive documentation of a singular subject.
Years of Dust & Dry
Everything to do with this series was about process, order, function: ordered (numbered) so as to describe a kind of journey. From sparseness through to abundance, these artworks shift from being minimalist and monochromatic – with grain and tooth exposed – to being complete, fully covered and heavily layered paintings.
Brussels was the starting point for this series: the Jeu de Balle flea market, where vendors are mostly those contacted to pick up the leftovers after a house clearance (so, the leftovers of leftovers). We – the diggers, the rummagers – adopt splinters of unknown homes and place them within the walls of new lives, new homes. Or in my case, to completely reroute these items, toward an entirely new purpose.
Since those first mornings spent in Brussels, at flea markets and in the city’s numerous antique and second hand shops (Petits Riens), I’ve aimed to push the inclusion of found objects within my practice to the furthest extent possible. Throughout the creation of this exhibition, as well as returning to Brussels, I visited dozens of antique quarters in cities and towns in France, Italy and closer to home: hunting down Brocantes and Vide Greniers (antique fairs and garage sales) all over France, and returning to Paris’ plethora of vintage shops on several occasions. I began this project painting upon simple planes: drawer bases, boards, table-tops. But I gradually expanded the variety of items on which I painted, choosing increasingly more obscure items, and items of considerable age.
In general, each of the items on which I paint has endured a life that speaks of function, of use, of wear. In this exhibition, see for example the pasted canvas scrolls that make The Pool and Exposed: these (now faded, discoloured and fragile) strips of hand stenciled destination signage – once prominent on a coach’s face – revolved, rolled, and covered great distance, hour after hour, day after day for years, for decades. Take the coffee grinders that make Five Lands, Five Lakes: basic and yet integral parts of daily rituals, likewise the printmakers' drawers, the matchboxes whose interiors act as perfect enclosures for miniature sea paintings...
The opening Years of Dust & Dry artworks carry little, or even no paint at all. James Scott Elliot’s Slate exhibits only light repetitive scratching and dust. Its subject is imagined, more of a metaphor than a physical place. The final set in the show Weathered (Oil Oceans) and The Weight of Water, are the opposite of James Scott Elliot’s Slate. These paintings are heavy, entirely covered in layered oil paint. Their physical, textured strokes are the direct opposite of light scratchings on slate. These are paintings in full colour. Created (and kept) outdoors, strapped down, these works comprise dozens of layers, applied over the course of several years.
The overriding point of these works concerns time and memory. Small snippets, memories, fragments of ordinary life and passing (past) time. I intended for this series to read as flickers upon beaten planes. Planes of unknown (but definite) age. And so maybe a focus of this exhibition was erosion: both mental and physical. Cliff faces, coastal scenes: heavy, solid masses, that suffer frequent brutality, much more than the simple function of a door or table. Perhaps this exhibition wasn't an upward progression, concerning growth and construction, but more about stripping back. Deconstructing the notion of the painting to its rawest state, whilst also alluding to the subject of ageing, the passing of time.
Photography by Michael Wolchover & David Cass