Process painting is about the construction of the work, the methods and materials used. It is in short art about the act of making art.
Artists who have used process as the subject of their work include Jim Lambie, Ian Davenport, and Ingrid Calame. Process is the main content and essential for Ingrid Calame’s work. Her drawings are not reliant upon reality but use process to reflect it. She traces stains and found lines in cracks on the road in colouring pencils, a different colour for each layer of tracing paper. The final piece is always a revelation for her when the colours and layers come together. Therefore, her work depends heavily on process.
In contrast, Jim Lambie has a preconceived idea of what the work will look like before he starts; he uses vinyl tape to fill a space with colour. Each piece is different and site specific in that he uses the tape to follow the lines of the perimeter of a space. The work is very much a reflection of his process.
Ian Davenport’s work experiments with the materiality of paint. He uses unconventional tools to apply paint on to canvas, such as, watering cans, syringes and pins. His work becomes about the painting; the substance of paint and the manner in which he applies it. Does this form of work hold meaning for today’s audience?
Is there room for process painting to develop in contemporary art? Peter Burger wrote,
The separation of art from the praxis of life becomes the decisive characteristic of the autonomy of bourgeois art...whose terminal point is reached in Aestheticism, where art becomes the content of art… It is only as a consequence of this fact that the works of art becomes its own end in the full meaning of the term.
Therefore, art that has abandoned the ‘praxis of life’, devoid of reality, is meaningless to the viewer. An art related solely to the maker will not be relevant to the outside world or to anyone but the artist. Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe states that Aestheticism or also known as Non-Objective painting was concluded in the 1970s, which took the goals of process art to extremes,
In the late 1970s, artists and critics started to denounce what they called and still call ‘blank Abstraction’. And despite its detractors’ malicious intent, it was indeed abstraction’s blankness that was at issue.
Therefore, if the ideals of process painting have been resolved, how can it progress and still hold meaning? Process painting can still be conceptual or participatory if it so chooses to be, all art must be interpreted and giving interpretation gives meaning and thus destroys blankness. Richard Leppert writes,
Viewers do not wait for a painting’s meaning to arrive pre-packaged. Viewers are active participants in determining meaning. In order to ‘see’ (that is, to ‘perceive’), I have to know something.
He believes all painting is subjective and despite its content, everything must still be interpreted individually. W. J. T. Mitchell wrote that the ideals of process painting were still something to aspire to,
This sort of ‘pure’ visual perception, freed from concerns with functions, use, and labels, is perhaps the most highly sophisticated sort of seeing that we do …’pure’ vision, a merely mechanical process uncontaminated by imagination, purpose or desire.
However, Jacques Rancière believed that art and life were not that separate at all, and once realised autonomy or pure art did not need to be sought. He believes all art consists of the same fundamental elements, that art does not have one singular concept or meaning, and that this should be embraced,
Pure painting and ‘corrupted’ painting are two configurations of an identical surface composed of shifts and melanges. This also means there is not an autonomous art on the one hand and a heteronomous art on the other…. It is a break with a regime of art in which imitations were simultaneously autonomous and heteronomous.
In relation to my own work, process has been the subject. I have used chance to create the work – without the process the work could not exist in the same sense. My paintings and drawings look at shape – I wanted to find abstract shapes, which did not reference reality and would not lead to misinterpretation.
I looked to geometry, pure unrefined shape and to a method of drawing without intuition or imitation. I found that by letting chance direct my drawings, I could fulfil these goals. In these drawings, I have used dice to determine the placement of line and even the colour of the shape. I used random numbers as co-ordinates to plot my forms and I set myself rules so I did not draw intuitively. I have employed chance to create my work. The shapes are the image, but the process is the subject.
Boyle Family have used randomness and chance to determine their works. Sue Hubbard describes the turning point in their work,
When the Boyles chanced upon a discarded grey television surround, it was radically to alter their working methods. Throwing it like a die they decided that whatever portion of site it framed would become the subject of their next work… Chance…was to become a major component in their work.
Subsequent works were created where they lived by throwing darts at a map and then a right angle to pinpoint the exact area. The darts would therefore select sites in a completely random way.
Once a site was chosen, they would make a rubber mould of the surface to create an exact replica. Then using resin and other found materials they would make a perfectly realistic copy. They have made several series from sites in London, beaches, and even skin. Bill Hare describes the use of chance in their work,
Chance is not an anarchist, but a terrorist. It does not simply wish to destroy, but to create an alternative to the logical, orthodox order of things. Instead of a man-made selective system operating to predetermined ends, with chance, selection and intent are replaced by the totality of natural possibilities.
Marcel Duchamp is seen as the pioneer of using chance in art. In 1913 he created 3 Standard Stoppages, which according to George Brecht, was what seemed to be, the first explicit use of chance for the creation of an affective image. Duchamp created these three images by holding a metre long thread one metre above a blank canvas. After letting it fall, he fixed it in place using varnish.
Jean Arp composed his collages using chance. Using random scraps of paper, he shuffled them and as they fell on to the surface, he glued them in place. This created a random composition, which relied heavily on chance.
Allan Kaprow describes the use of chance as a denial of authorship,
At this point the ‘artist’ as such is no longer a real entity. He has eliminated himself…. But its great poignancy is that it can never be a total act, for others must be aware of the artist’s disavowal of authorship if its meaning is not to be lost.
In letting chance, possibility, randomness or accident direct art, the artist is not deemed necessary or the individual maker. The work could have been made by anyone other than the artist, or possibly by nobody, as the same laws of chance would have been applicable. By using chance to determine work, the artist has unwittingly denied authorship.
In conclusion, painting can never be purely about process. I don’t think you can separate art from everything else. By using chance as a process in itself, it has shifted the subject from purely about making, to ideas about accident and authorship. There is always another subject and influence, the works cannot exist alone, and without these things the works would surely be utterly blank.
 Peter Bürger The Negation of the Autonomy of Art by the Avant-garde, 2002, from Claire Bishop Documents of Contemporary Art: Participation, page 48-50
 Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe Beauty and the Contemporary Sublime, page 122
 Richard Leppert Art and the Committed Eye: The Cultural Functions of Imagery, page 6
 W. J. T. Mitchell Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology, page 118
 Jacques Rancière The Future of the Image, pages 105-6
 Sue Hubbard, Adventures in Art: Selected Writings 1990 – 2010, page 150
 Bill Hare Boyle Family, page 83
 George Brecht, Chance Imagery, 1957, from Margaret Iversen, Documents of Contemporary Art, Chance, page 37
 Allan Kaprow, Assemblage, Environments & Happenings, 1966 from Margaret Iversen, Documents of Contemporary Art, Chance, page 56