The paintings you see on this website were made between 1971 and the present. I have not included everything. Instead, I have chosen the paintings which best represent each series and mark particular changes of direction.
The years between 1968 and 1971 can be seen as a period of sorting out where I stood on figure-field painting issues, between what is an incident on a surface and what just is, the painting as object. This was an interesting time to be making visual work at all, never mind paintings, with Reinhardt, Stella, Louis, Noland, Olitski and Poons in the background, and LeWitt, Andre, Art and Language and Joseph Kosuth in the limelight. By 1971 I had some idea of where I was going.
1971 was the year in which I stopped using conventional stretchers for all but the smallest paintings, allowing the canvas to hang freely. This gave me much more flexibility in looking at the material structure of Painting, it put the accent on making rather than depicting, and it forced the question: where does the content lie? The canvas was painted or stained, usually black or grey, with the odd flash of white where the paint hadn’t reached, and was sometimes cut and folded, revealing both sides of the painting at the same time. These early unstretched paintings were first shown at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham in 1971.
By 1974 the canvas was being stained, torn, stacked, rolled, propped up, or wrapped around wooden planks. Several paintings were made by bandaging each individual piece of a stretcher with strips of stained canvas. These deconstructions were shown at the Ikon Gallery in 1974. The 1977 exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, was a natural culmination of this period of work, bringing together earlier work and pieces specifically made for the show – “Hanging Circle” and “Everything Visible and Invisible”.
By the 1980s, the large expanses of black and grey stains, and the bandaged planks, had given way to the scribbles and smudges of “History” and “The Lesson”, and the combination of a much looser method of painting with rigid structures such as the stripes and checkerboards to be found in the “People’s Flag” series, and “Northern Soul”. These tapped into a rich seam of politics and personal memory.
A much lighter, more sparse series of paintings was made in an intense period of activity in the summer of 1995, “Hawaii Then and Now”, “Birkenhead and Beyond”, “Hope and Loss”. and so on. This paved the way for “The Natural Language of Northerners”, a celebration of bluntness, and “Dam”, which was commissioned for the 1998 East International.
“The Phoenicians” and “small fans buzzing”, both 1998, refer to the Don DeLillo novel “Underworld” which had a huge impact on me. His “Point Omega” had a similar impact some years later.
“…the nights that were electrical, a static in the air and lightning in soft pulses…”
“…a small fan buzzing in the corner and an aria drifting from a radio on a fire escape somewhere.”
(Don DeLillo, “Underworld”, 1997)
The paintings consist of small, concentrated incidents on large areas of blank canvas, small rectangles which I came to think of as containers for ideas, thoughts, memories, friends and conversations. These containers, now larger and sometimes with stripes, became “houses” in several subsequent works – “Frank’s House”, “Ken’s House”, and “N.Y. House”. The last of these and three smaller versions were shown in New York in 2004.
The 16 small “Corrected Paintings” started in 2001 look at the theory and practice of correcting paintings which were started only to be corrected. When and why do you stop? Further series of small paintings followed, “Brighton Beach” in 2007 and “Redux Soup” in 2008. “Pier Song” (2006) was actually started in 1983 and went through many changes. The song is “Look For The Silver Lining”, and the pier is Morecambe pier in the 1950s.
The last big paintings made before moving from Leamington Spa to the south coast were “Julie on the Beach” and “Round The Horn With Captain Terry”. This last title refers to Terry Atkinson’s idea of “circumnavigating the visual”, an idea I have never got out of my head. Maybe it is what I have always been trying to do, and you have to touch land sometimes.
The first paintings made on the south coast were small, simple variations on Xs, mainly acrylic and pencil on canvas, loosely called the Kissamos series. The newer, bigger work has taken a new direction, more spontaneous, painted wet on wet, but following a horizontal linear structure. It develops some of the improvisational elements of the “Corrected Paintings” and draws on several visits to Greece in recent years. There are four paintings in a series called “The Dictionary of Silences”, (2014 -15), each painting a page in an imagined book in the library of Melies, a village on the slopes of Mt. Pelion in Greece. This series continues in 2016.
C.H. February, 2016.