the shape distance [2]

MARCH 18, 2013

‘the shape distance’ [maps 5-8]

A greater confidence and liberation of gesture and colour are increasingly apparent as I continue my journey into painting to ‘capture’ moments in sound from my own compositions onto the two-dimensional surface of white-borads [at least, that’s the intention – the reality may prove rather more elusive]. You will need to judge for yourselves just how ‘musical’ these paintings are as it is difficult for me to be objective once the processes of assimilation [making the painting] takes over, all other concerns become secondary.

My intention remains pure enough, but the excitement of working with pigment, texture, colour and modeling form tends to dictate its own dynamic on-goingly. This ‘non-temporal’ media is quickly so much more responsive and pliable in ‘real-time’ than writing down music, making the act of composition feel laboriously painstaking. [maps 5-8] sees a further exploration and extension of the initial mark-making in [maps 1-4] and tackles a broader repertoire of ‘sound-initiators’ [the sound or combinations of sounds in aural gesture I employ to initiate the mark-making from my imagination]. More extreme sound-events now shape my painted outcomes. The resultant work reflects these polarities.

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‘the shape distance [map 8]‘ Oil and mixed media on mounted board 24×18 inches | 2013

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‘the shape distance [map 7]‘ Oil and mixed media on mounted board 24×24 inches | 2013

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‘the shape distance [map 6]‘ Oil and mixed media on mounted board 24×18 inches | 2013

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‘the shape distance [map 5]‘ Oil and mixed media on mounted board 24×18 inches | 2013

the shape distance [1]

MARCH 10, 2013
the shape distance

I haven’t painted for six years.

This week I completed four new paintings. They mark a radical departure from the work I finished in 2006. This radical departure is due in part to various developments in my music compositions but also due to much deliberation about the associations between music and painting in general and how, specifically, my work as a painter can be brought closer to that of my music. Writing in VISCER-ebr-AL combined with the many conversations I have had with my dear friend Ian Talbot have helped shape ideas, culminating in a burst of work that draws together many of the threads pondered and discussed.

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‘the shape distance’ [map 1]

Before talking about my intention within the paintings, it will help to outline my most recent thoughts in composition as these directly impact upon this series of paintings; indeed, they reference each other through a shared title.

the shape distance are a series of seven pieces constructed somewhat akin to ‘Russian Dolls’ in that each contains the same or similar core material that is ‘enclosed’ by other layers of material.

The core music is represented by two solo pieces that although composed in isolation contain strongly related material. This music for flute and clarinet, either together or individually pervades all subsequent pieces in the series.

the shape distance [1] flute 1 / clarinet
the shape distance [2] flute 1 / clarinet / piano
the shape distance [3] flutes 1 + 2 / clarinet / viola
the shape distance [4] flutes 1 + 2 / harp
the shape distance [5] flutes 1 + 2 / clarinet / viola / percussion (1)
the shape distance [6] flute 1 / clarinet / harp / percussion (1)
the shape distance [7] flutes 1 + 2 / clarinet / viola / harp / piano / percussion (1)

Percussion set (1 player):
5 differently pitched temple blocks ranging from high to low, 4 differently pitched suspended cymbals ranging from high to low, 1 timpani drum 29″-28″, 1 large, deep, resonant bass drum, 2 differnetly pitched suspended tam-tams

all works circa 12 minutes in duration.

notes:
The instrumentalists play independently of each other. Music is cued to begin only, with no ‘fixed’ synchronisation between the instrumentalists. Whilst the relationship of each instrument is flexibly placed against its neighbour, care has been taken to calculate potential outcomes of coincidence and variability. To this end it is vital that metronome markings are adhered to as accurately as possible although the composer appreciates that it is the various interpretations and practicalities inherent in the realisation of tempi that contribute to the richly unique nature and interplay of each performance.
There is only one instructions to the players; to begin together and play until their material is finished.

Compositional material is [largely] derived from a series of distant variations that unify all sections with thematic landmarks. Thematic material is audible throughout the piece, bringing cohesion and structure to the work. All the instrumental roles are written to a high degree of virtuosity and most contain extended techniques and quarter-tones. The music itself [through the simultaneous bringing together of these individual parts] forms dense, highly complex and constantly changing relationships that are frequently wild and sometimes beautiful.

The score and parts:
I have not produced a score for these pieces; difficulties and variables associated with displaying the musical material in vertical alignment as represented in real time are considerable. Each performance will yield different results, interplays, gestural and harmonic references and outcomes. As a result, the material contained within the pieces can only be read via the instrumental parts. Consequently here is no definitive performance of these pieces.
Music in the shape distance can only be realised through performance [as opposed to comprehended by reading through a score; this is the nature of the music – it has to be experienced to be ‘known’.

A note about the title:
‘The shape distance is part of ‘the shape context’ and is intended to be a way of describing shapes that allows for measuring shape similarity and the recovering of point correspondences. The basic idea is to pick n points on the contours of a shape. For each point pi on the shape, consider the n − 1 vectors obtained by connecting pi to all other points. The set of all these vectors is a rich description of the shape localized at that point but is far too detailed. The key idea is that the distribution over relative positions is a robust, compact, and highly discriminative descriptor.’

Wikipedia

This process of describing shapes through their similarities resonated with my ambition in these pieces, especially regarding the recognition of shapes [this time shape and gestural recognition in sound rather than physical objects] within a complex, multifaceted fabric of un-synchronous sounds, believing that it is the recognition of these elements that brings both context, excitement and meaning to the music.

It is perhaps this last paragraph that can be used for the jumping-off point into my paintings.

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‘the shape distance’ [map 2]

My intention in this work, as stated above, was broadly to bring connectivity from my music into my paintings in a way that at least, resonated with me.

I know it is impossible to ‘paint music’ in any real [truthful] sense and have observed that when most visual artists cite a connection between their visual work and music it is through affectation [a purely emotional, indulgent or even nostalgic response], illustration or pure fiction.

I felt it necessary, as far as I was able to avoid these pitfalls.

In starting the paintings I had a very rough idea of where I might be heading but the detail was unknown. I was very anxious about making marks on my virgin white boards. Initially I was scared to commit. A six year gap in painting leaves both a desire to paint again as well as a void that has been filled by uncertainties around ones abilities to actually paint anything of worth ever again.

My first attempt took me straight back to where I left off. I put that one aside. My second attempt [the first to be finished] immediately showed the way forward as I recognised within it many of the ideas I had previously thought about. It was this painting that became the measure for the others. I removed the surface from the first painting and started again. This process of assimilation between the works continued until I felt I had left the past behind sufficiently and had indicated the way forward. I wasn’t sure I ‘liked’ what I had produced, but on a sub conscious level the work resonated and I ‘knew’ this was the right direction. I took me a few days to acclimatise to this new work. Now I am enjoying it and my mind is stimulated with more to come.

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‘the shape distance [map 3]‘the shape distance’ [map 3]

Yes, I needed to bring ‘music’ into the visual, but how had I intended to do this.

I took an approach based very much around mapping ‘gesture’ in music. In sound, a gesture can be a flourish of notes, a sudden loud to quiet, a phrase or technique, a crescendo, a musical shape – a moment. All these gestures have physical counterparts. Rather, they can all be represented through a physical movement [we may call this dance, but I have something less formalised in mind], single movements that capture the kinetic energy that the gestural sound produces. It is this movement that I wanted to capture through the gesture of mark-making, solidifying ‘a moment in sound’ through line, colour and texture.

These paintings, called ‘the shape distance’ are mapping exercises; they ‘petrify’ a moment in time, an event or gesture[s] from one of my scores. They are not illustrative or affective; they translate a gesture in sound through a related gesture in line, the impetus and guide being the kinetic energy needed to bridge this gap. Therefore, the mark making in these paintings is pre-conceived, experienced and spontaneously translated into the mark in one [or several] bold gestures.

As mapping these gestures is central to the work, my titles reflect the connection: ‘the shape distance’ [map 1], ‘the shape distance [map 2], and so on.

Other elements are at play, too.

These painting have taken their elements of form, texture and colour to the minimum necessary to effectively express my intent. This is where the radical departure from my previous work is centred. I had produced large works of an ‘epic’ intensity [by comparison], full of rich colour, deep texture, impasto and complex forms. Now, the paintings are set upon pale, delicately textured backdrops that have an almost [slightly grubby] clinical feel – a bit like setting the mark-making, the gestures against a background of white-noise, or indeed, silence. This juxtaposition only serves to heighten the mark-making and minimal colour present in the work. The focus has been sharpened towards what is vital for the form of the piece to work.
These pieces are not minimal in any sense like ‘minimalism in music’; on the surface and in comparison to my previous work there has been a significant paring down of content and spectrum of expression, but what I am left with is in no way minimal. If anything, the reduction has increased the intensity of the gesture and spontaneity of the work making it more potent. It may not have the initial visual ‘wow’ factor of my previous work, but upon deeper inspection reveals a passionate dynamic that reflects it origins in music.

Additionally, these ‘reduced’ backgrounds, these settings for the gestural mark-making provide a platform akin to derelict internal walls that exude the beauty of ‘domestic erosion and decay’, or external urban walls that call for graffiti. There is a sense in which I view this new work as a kind of graffiti with the board being the wall. Perhaps I could call the work I am producing gestural graffiti?

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‘the shape distance’ [map 4]

Having said all of this I shall close by stating that I am fully aware my intentions in this work, all that I have written, thought and made, may not be apparent to the viewer who has no knowledge of my previous work, connection to music or given intent. Does that weaken the work? I think not. The intent of the artist is paramount; it gives the context and raison d’être for the work. These ideas resonate with me and will resonate with others but with those for whom such resonances are not apparent, my hope is that the dynamic of the work will ‘speak’ to them in other ways.

stillness in movement

Stillness in Movement – exhibition: Antuireann Arts Centre – 2004
March 21 2011

A multi-media installation – An Tuireann Art Centre, Oct. to mid-Nov. 2004 With subsidy from the Scottish Arts Council, Hi-Arts, An Tuireann Arts Center

This article was written in 2004 before the work illustrated here was produced

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title: neither movement from nor towards no.2 (2004) dimensions: 122 x 157 cms media: oil on mounted board

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The creation of this multi-media installation will cover research and practice in contemporary music, visual art and Eastern philosophy.

This installation will create a unique opportunity to consolidate many years of practice as a composer and painter by researching and developing a method for realising inspiration that is capable of expressing similar ideas in both music and painting. This method will develop from research into the philosophical principles within the practices of Buddhism and how these can translate into a personal approach to my own work. My research will bring together the art forms of painting and composition, which will interact with philosophy and cross-cultural influences from the East and West. It is my hope that new creative freedoms will emerge from this research, enabling me to relinquish many of the controls and expectations that I have brought to my work within the general ethos and history of Western art culture. This exploration of how Buddhist principles can enrich my work will hopefully bring with it a new quality, dynamism and energy, enabling me to explore my inspiration in increasingly new, personal and original ways.
Why?

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title: neither movement from nor towards no.3 (2004) dimensions: 221 x 81 cms media: oil on mounted board

Over recent months I have developed an interest in the philosophy and practices of Buddhism and am keen to research how this philosophy can develop my practice as an artist and composer by unifying the techniques and intentions of my work.

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There are two main areas that interest me in Buddhism – impermanence, and the influence of the ego on creative actions. Impermanence deals with the ever-changing nature of all things; the action of the ego deals with the exercise of control and manipulation of matter and events. I feel that these two aspects of philosophy offer new creative opportunities and disciplines that would greatly develop my work.
It is not my intention to write religious music or create icons in visual art, nor do I wish to make superficial observations of Buddhism as a religion. Instead, I wish to research how the notions of impermanence and lessening egoic action can enrich my own creative language and development, in a very personal way.

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title: movement towards no.4 (2004) dimensions: 122 x 92 cms media: oil on mounted board

Music
I wish to devise a music generating process where a number of elements – pitches, dynamics, rhythmic patterns, durations, etc., will combine and recombine in continually differing ways. The rates of change and factors governing permutations will be organised by a set of numbers that will be generated randomly. The result of this will be to create a sound structure that, like chaos theory, is made up of small units of similar things that combine to create larger units of similar things. A further analogy is to see the structure as an organism: the membrane of the organism acts as the parameter of possibility – the pitches, rhythms, durations etc. – the inside of the organism is where all these elements are permutated through the action of the random numbers. Like sculpture, music that results from these processes can be viewed from many different perspectives.

This kind of compositional technique can fulfill the idea of impermanence as it creates an ever-changing field of possibilities with nothing being repeated but all aspects within the field being related. It also reduces the influence of the ego and various levels of control over events as the decisions of what happens to the musical material from moment to moment is taken out of the composer’s hands; the use of random numbers and probability takes care of that. What the composer has done is to initiate a series of probabilities within the limitations of the elements themselves. The result of this method is that setting limited musical elements, random numbers and probabilities in motion, in time, can create large sections of music, or even complete works.

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title: neither movement from nor towards (2004) dimensions: 107 x 122 cms media: oil on mounted board

To date, my music has been very Western in that it has been highly goal orientated. By incorporating the philosophy of impermanence and ego into my work in this particular way, I am opening up my work to a more non-goal orientated direction and seeking to relinquish control over many compositional aspects.

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title: movement towards no.1 (2004) dimensions: 147 x 123 inches media: oil on mounted board

I want to avoid writing music that describes anything in particular or attempts to convey particular emotions; these factors will be inherent in the sounds that are produced – as the sounds transform they will encompass different colours, energies and intensities. Any levels of control that I do exercise will concern large-scale structural issues and of course, the initial planning in setting up the generating processes. If the results of these actions are not to my liking, I will discard them and generate a different set of possibilities to process the sounds.
I want the music I write to be like a found object, complete in itself, and relatively uninfluenced by my actions.

I am sure that the approach I have outlined here can be taken to extremes of non-control; indeed, composers such as John Cage took similar ideas to their own conclusion. I am aware that the incorporation of Eastern philosophy into Western art is not a new one, but in the context of my own work the impact will be revolutionary and my response unique and personal.

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I intend to compose a piece of acoustic music that has a duration of 60 minutes to act as a soundscape to accompany the visual art exhibition. I intend to write one large work made up of three, self-contained modules. Each of these modules will reflect similar musical ideas, structures and processes, but from differing perspectives. The compositions will be for an ensemble of eight players – soprano, flute, oboe, clarinet, violin, viola, violoncello and piano. The music will reflect, as best as possible, the processes, intention and concerns of the visual art, and will be recorded and played during the exhibition, on a continuous sound-loop. The sound element will compliment and enhance the visual elements, completing a multimedia installation.
I also wish to transfer these techniques to my visual artwork.

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title: movement towards no.3 dimensions: 61 x 87 cms media: oil on mounted board

Painting
I will produce a series of nine oil paintings, which will reflect, in form, colour and texture, the compositional issues set out within the music component of this installation.
Concentrating on the exploration of simple and restricted themes, material will be drawn from the nature in which objects break down and erode – particularly the process of rusting – reflecting my interest in impermanence – the ever-changing nature of all things. Paintings will reflect this same subject matter, but again, the material will be viewed from differing perspectives, offering insights into the very nature, construction and transient quality of the material itself.

I will employ methods of painting that ensure the activities of chance and random effects. I will set the events in these painting onto a 2D or illusory 3D context (created through glazes and tonal densities), so as to explore the relationship between time, event (subject material), and space. In music, all elements are set in time and against a background of silence or non-event. With these paintings, the negative background body provides the space or non-event that the painted events are viewed against – this negative space or illusory 3D space can be used in a similar way to time and silence in music, bringing a temporal element to the visual work.

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title: movement from no.2 (2004) dimensions: 122 x 157 cms media: oil on mounted board

The paintings will be abstract forms, again, not attempting to portray anything in particular, but through their own colours, textures and intensities covering a range of interpretational possibilities.

Another strand of significance is to explore aspects of movement within stillness. The notion of writing music that moves forwards whilst going round in circles, constantly re-permutating itself, never repeating, but all the time sounding familiar, can be directly translated into paintings that explore similar issues. Within these paintings I hope to achieve differing senses of motion, movement and energy, all through stillness – stillness, because the elements in a painting are fixed and static, but they can imply great movement, energy-direction and flow.
By restricting material, colour and textural components, using layering, glazing, scraping and revealing techniques, I can create surfaces that explore erosion and deterioration.
I would go as far as to say that within these paintings I am not aiming to paint, or represent, anything at all – subject wise. However, as the material unfolds and develops and the restricted textural, structural and colour elements come into focus, each work evolves with its own sense of energy, movement and ambience.

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title: movement from no.1 (2004) dimensions: 107 x 79 cms media: oil on mounted board

As the surface of these paintings develops into a complex web of activity, texture, colour and form, it becomes difficult to assimilate the content in a single viewing. Indeed, each time one looks into work that is created in this way, new layers of significance are revealed enabling the work to evolve in the mind of the viewer. This continual assimilation of visual information fits neatly into my views on impermanence – the viewer’s relation to and understanding of the work is in a continual state of development. This statement is, of course, true of all visual art. However, as there are no objects contained within the composition of these paintings that relate directly (as in objective representation) to the natural world, there is a particular need for the mind to build abstract connections and responses to the painted surface, just to make some form of sense of what is perceived. This state of continued assimilation means that nothing in the painting ever appears quite the same from one viewing to another, as the relationships between all the elements are always seen differently in relation to each other. I feel that this perceptual state of flux is close to the concept of impermanence.

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As an artist, I am also excited that the content of such work continues to be revealed to me to – like a found object, complete in itself to be appreciated and viewed. The work I am now making, fully using the methods described above, often produces great surprises for me. I am enjoying these unknown qualities. One advantage is that I can look upon the work as being somewhat separate from me – as if someone else had produced it – not because of any sense of having been possessed during its creation, but because the methods used to generate the images was not completely subject to my direct choices and will – rather, the randomly produced actions that I employed at the outset are bearing fruit as they are revealed through subsequent procedures of exposure.
As I do not aim to pre-empt how a finished painting will look, and the techniques of making I use, are to a certain extent randomised and incidental, at least in the initial stages of making, I can minimise the amount of choices I have to make and therefore limit the use of the ego. Of course, I do make choices and the ego (what I like and I don’t like) is always part of these choices. However, because I chose to begin a painting by creating possibilities that are put down both spontaneously and with as great a degree of random energy as I can muster, I feel as if my voyage from initial brush marks to finished work is one of discovery – discovering the potential of the material and limited elements that I decided upon at the outset of the creative process, and discovery as I assimilate, focus upon and develop the material and surfaces within the painting itself.

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The finished painting is only one of a multitude of possible outcomes – given similar starting points and ingredients, I feel it is fair to say that a subsequent painting would take a completely different course in its development. I find this constant discovery of paintings, and indeed, my own work, to be very stimulating – often I will ‘find’ things in paintings that will be far richer, more imaginative and varied than I could have conceived by projecting my imagination in a forced way onto a blank painting surface. Each painting I make is a surprise to me, as I have no way of predicting exactly how the work will turn out. This creative freedom is a direct result of exchanging aspects of creative responsibility and choice in certain procedures for (controlled) random actions and processes of revealing different layers of activity. In achieving this freedom, I feel that I have, in part, negated the actions of the ego and encouraged the processes of impermanence to influence the outcome of my work.

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I believe that the descriptions of how I make oil paintings bear many similarities to how I conceive and make music composition and believe that, in as far as it is possible to translate inspiration and creative ideas from one media to another, the shared philosophy of these processes does bring elements of the creative act in each of these disciplines into a meaningful relationship with one and other, where the connections between the work runs far deeper than superficial observations about mood, colour and texture.