Making the Paintings

Two Eleven

Left to rt: having built a 56-room cabinet only three full slots end up visible in the painting; artist in residence - Rue de la Calade, Arles; baju (c.1950) by Yeong Seng, tailor in the Penang Road, original and remade hotel key fobs; constructing the key cabinet.

Beauty Coming Down

Macalister Road, 1415 & Subtitle

How do you go about making a painting?

Having conceived an idea for a picture I will go about setting up a shoot, giving consideration to casting, location, props, lighting / time of day. Hoping to get that one image I'll take several rolls of film using a SLR camera.

The photographs come back from the lab normal postcard size. One is selected, scanned and blown up to 60 x 40 cm. I trace and then transfer an outline guide to the paper. Reverting to the original postcard size photo as my 'model', everything is re drawn with water soluble colour pencil. I switch to brush and with watercolour slowly build up the image layer upon layer, the pencil outlines get washed away.

Photography therefore plays a major part in this process.

I think the main reason to choose the camera as my viewfinder on the world is that it has an entirely objective way of recording reality. In several other aspects too the camera can capture what the eye cannot. Composition with the crop of the viewfinder; distance (focal planes) with apperture settings; time, the speed of the shutter can hold a split second.

On a more practical level, these paintings take a long time to do (well over a year what with one thing and another for Zabriskie Point), it helps that your life model can keep still for this length of time.

You are simply copying a photograph?

I do stick as closely as possible to the photograph because it embodies the objective reality I want to show. It stands for itself. There is no need for the artist to intrude or interpret, much less to be seen to have been at work with signature brushwork whatever. One has only to consider that if those original moments of beauty, space, existence are from god then the look-at-me stuff doesn't really come into it.

I prefer that there is as little evidence of how the painting has arrived on the paper as possible, it appears entirely of itself.

Ars est celare artem?

Yes, art is to conceal art.

Why not just leave it as a photograph?

The photos I take are actually rather poor quality, as soon as they are enlarged at all they get progressively fuzzier - it's like looking at something without your specs on. Part of the process of the painting is to adjust the blurr to give the right amount of definition. Besides there can be something quite miraculous about a painting, photographs have quite different qualities.

Why do you use watercolour?

I love the way in which you are always working with the whiteness of the paper, this is what illuminates the image. You never add white to make a colour or tone, untouched paper is the highlight, thence by degrees of transparency and hue to the darkest shade - similar to the way images appear on the cinema screen. This is also perhaps why I prefer to use black to matt the image, it gives a sense of light coming from within the picture as if you are sitting in a darkened cinema watching a movie.

Where do you draw inspiration for your work?

I think mostly from those works by artists imbued with a sense of the temporal. This would include individual works like Norman Rockwell's Shuffleton's Barbershop, the watercolours of Andrew Wyeth, of course Vermeer.
Time to time I return to particular films of Antonioni and Ozu, also those of Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung.
Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven captures so much purely by visual means.
I have a strong recollection of the Hayward show of the Boyle Family's landscapes.
Recently I listened to an audio version of Giuseppe di Lampedusa's The Leopard read by Corin Redgrave.
Strauss's Four Last Songs.

The list would be quite long.

You mention the temporal, but you have done religious paintings as well?

That's true, possibly the temporal and the spirtual are two sides of the same coin.

December 2007