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What makes me a painter

Published in VAI News Sheet March/April 2022 Pg. 35

AT AGE 11, I was transported by my own hand into the space of a drawing. I was grateful for an activity that would allow me to forget and subside worry about whether I would have someone to sit beside at lunch; that’s the primal reason I started this gig – it brings me closer to the present, even if now I am painting about the past. I have been painting for nearly 20 years; over this period, it and sleep have been the two constants in my life. Painting has been a companion – a touchstone, helping me through deaths, celebrations, and periods of loneliness. I have adjusted my process over the years to best suit my circumstances at any given point. I have worked from photos and abandoned it. I have worked from life and abandoned it. I am currently working from memory and will probably abandon it. What feels like a new summit is that I am starting to see parts of my practice circle around itself; modes of working I left behind are reappearing in ways that feel useful, fresh and honest. This is the larger point I am thinking about these days – to define myself as a painter is beautifully broad.

The first time I destroyed a body of work, it was liberating. A curator told me during a phone conversation: “Now, you’ve become your own artist”. The joy of a studio that was empty, ready to be filled with uninhibited directions. This feeling soon migrated from excitement into worry, so I got to work chasing a new thought with paint. More recently this occurred again. Around the end of 2020 my work started to go downhill. I could see the disinterest and complacency, but still had a burning desire to paint. The rock bottom this time didn’t feel as tough; I had been down this path before. From experience, I knew the way to solve it: acceptance, trial, error, and consistent work. The key in this method though is being gentle. Lightly holding my ideas and letting them fail and grow. I can’t remember a defining moment in this transition of process (working observationally from life to memory). The realisation that I allowed it just to happen is comforting. The conscious awareness that I am consistently circling back to similar themes around memory and personal biography has made painting even more enjoyable. Possibly, the most important and repetitive reminder I need is that making is best when fueled by quirky internal enjoyment. This grants permission to abandon all too often self imposed rules and regulations. Feeling this freedom requires being in the realm of darkness and searching – spaces of vulnerability.

Painting is slow. The name of the activity is defined by the medium, so it remains at the pace it always has been. Tubed paint was the latest major technological advance in my line of the medium. So, in our cultural climate, the sluggishness and learning curves of paint can easily become more frustrating and seemingly more impossible than ever. Daily, I put trembling faith in the idea that my efforts will show me something I didn’t know I was searching for. Enduring long, painful stretches of making full of emptiness, presumptions, and at times disinterest, requires what I believe is a sick pleasure in pain. But then, unannounced, I am given a moment in the studio where stars seem to align, offering an internal feeling of satisfaction that can’t be quantified. In my delight I smile, giggle, and say “fuck you” to the work, because it’s like a lover that has me trapped in its emotional grasp. I will always come back for more. Years of making color charts, attending life drawing sessions, moving to places where I have more time and space for my practice, putting off plans to get more time in the studio, sacrificing relationships, attending residencies to build experiences and connections, investing in education, and following intuition when it might be the least sensible thing to do. This is what makes me a painter.


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