Jennifer Letchet Paintings

My work explores fundamental elements of painting, the relationship between colour and line. I intend my paintings to affect the viewer optically with the illusion of shapes moving and receding. Colour theory is very important to my work. I use specific hues to symbolise ideas or emotions. The contained shapes on canvases seem more like objects than lines. My recent work explores natural and man-made disasters and the impact this has on our environment. I want to record the changing landscape through simplified shapes and colours.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Artists Lecture at Swindon College 10.10.11

This is a lecture I took of my own work this month.  The lecture lasted about an hour and showed my present work first and then detailed the journey my work has taken from my BA show in July 2007 until the present date.  These are my lecture notes:

The aim of this lecture is to introduce my working practice to you, to show how your practice will develop and change over time.  My work constantly seems to be about problem solving, moving from one problem to another, and thereby slowly becoming more bespoke and refined.  Not necessarily in the output you produce, but your concepts and ideas.  I am going to show you my current work first and then I’m going to lead you chronologically from my BA degree show.  I want to show the process of how my work has evolved, how constant themes re-emerge and change over time.  It is important to see how your work fits into contemporary art, to know where your art sits and to know your influences. 

Firstly, I want to read you my artist statement to give you a brief summary about my work.

My current work explores the natural disasters and ecological changes to the environment in my study of the Earth’s topography.  I am interested in our changing landscape through natural and manmade events.  I draw from photographs from news websites.  My focus is the environmental impact and the effects on place.  I have been creating images of before and after the events drawing attention to time passing and the effect of a natural disaster, a chance event, on nature and habitat.  I am interested in the aesthetic shapes and patterns created by flooding rivers and melting glaciers and how they translate when you inform the viewer of the narrative.

My previous work has explored ideas of imaginary space, territory and landscape by taking existing islands or archipelagos and reconfiguring them.  Through colour, paint and line, I created a new perception of landscape.  The forms once taken out of their context, appeared unnatural and alien.  The paintings became about pure shape.

My work has been influenced by artists David Buckland, Michele Noach, Tracey Rowledge, Ingrid Calame, Jason Martin, Henri Matisse, Patrick Heron, and Boyle Family, and by writers Jacques Rancière and Clement Greenberg.  In conclusion, my work is about perceptions of form, line, and colour in relation to place and landscape.

Here, are some photographs of my MA show from this September.  I was sharing a space with four other artists, and we decided to curate the space, rather than have a cubicle style approach, as we wanted to have a stronger and more thought out exhibition approach.  We had no control as to which artists were in each space, but fortunately the other artists were also concerned with landscape and the creation of space. 

I exhibited three pieces, Archive, The Sudirman Glaciers, and Petermann Ice Island.  This is Archive and it comprises of six events, both natural and manmade.  From left to right: Bear Glacier, Alaska; 1989, 2010, which shows how the ice has melted and altered in around ten years.  Petermann Glacier, in Greenland 26.06.2010, 13.08.2010. New Valley Project, Egypt; 13.09.1987, 23.08.2000, 28.03.2011, shows how in 2000 a lake was constructed to irrigate the area and in 2011 we can see the lakes are gradually disappearing.  Malosmadulu Atolls, The Maldives; 2011, is the only piece in the series to exist on its own. This piece I see as a prequel to a yet unseen painting.  The Maldives are only one metre above sea level and so they will completely disappear in the not so distant future.  Queensland, Australia; 14.12.2010, 04.01.2011, is about the flooding earlier this year, how it devastated parts of Queensland and how the topography altered so quickly. Barrow, Beaufort Sea Alaska, 07.2006, 07.2007 is conveying a natural event: every spring the ice off the coast of Barrow freezes leaving a small stretch of sea.  I wanted to form a collection of many topographical changes from around the world.  To chase the media and find current temporal events and disasters which have shaped our landscape.

Process plays a vital role in my work.  My approach to painting is quite systematic, and involves several processes.  I work with egg tempera paint on gesso.  The gesso is a chalk ground made up of roughly half rabbit skin glue and half whiting, although variations can be found for the recipe.  I like this one for the off-white colour it gives. The surface is hard and incredibly smooth.  I chose it for its stone like quality, I wanted to make something that looked solid and timeless.  As I was creating work, which is was about time, the passing of it and the record of changes, to have something, which looked ancient, gave my paintings weight and substance.  I was observing the transient and creating something permanent.

Gesso is a porous surface and therefore is only suitable for water-based mediums, such as egg tempera or watercolours.  I am hugely interested in colour theory and mixing my own hues, so egg tempera appealed to me as you are essentially making your own paints from raw pigment.  The hues of these paintings are subdued and fleshy.  I wanted the colours of the shapes to be similar to the chalk ground or at least neutral.  Grey has often been described as a non-colour and so it features quite heavily, among taupes and creams, as well as salmon pinks to refer to flesh tints.  I wanted colours that would refer back to process, and would also get lost in the background.  For forms to get lost and re-emerge, just as land and topography can disappear and become rearranged.  I wanted to play with perception and interpretation.  I did not want the paintings to refer to anything, which wasn’t the subject at hand and I did not want to use diagrammatic colours, as I did not want my paintings to dictate the interpretation to the viewer.  I wanted the viewer to work out for themselves what these paintings meant and how the dates related.  So neutral colours or flesh tones, which purely had a relationship to us and to relate topography to human impact, was key in these works.

Petermann Ice Island is a 20cm cube made of wood and treated with gesso.  I wanted to create a precious object, which although very small and displayed on the floor, is precious because it is small and delicate.  I displayed it in a corner, quite out of the way so the viewer would stumble upon it per chance or even not notice it.   It records an event in time that is also forgettable: the movement of ice.  In this sense, the cube is self-referential.  It freezes topography; one moment is captured for as long as the cube remains.

Sudirman Glaciers is on three boards, each of them thicker in width than the other works.  I had been experimenting with making the works more physical.  They are 10 cm in depth and dominate the space they occupy.  I wanted to emphasise the idea of weight, of objects having significance, for example ancient artefacts have a significance due to their age, their origins and their historical value.  I wanted this piece to be a contemporary artefact, with a marble like physicality portraying something current and temporal.  In this piece, you can see how the glaciers of Papua have slowly diminished. 

These abstract forms, minimal in appearance, are given context with the use of titling.  Their titles allocate location, and date.  Here abstraction is being mediated, and media is being mediated also.  The images are taken from the media and given a diagrammatic, almost emotionless and unbiased treatment.  I personally believe, that abstraction is the best format for art that is ecologically charged as it offers the viewer a chance to interpret and reach an individual opinion.  I also personally dislike eco art.

So how did my art get to this point?  I am now going to take you back to my BA degree show, to show you how the work has progressed, the choices I’ve made and the influences I’ve had.

This is an image for my degree show, I just showed two paintings.  I think you can see the relationship between my work then and now: an interest in drawing, and line.  However, the work revolved around colour theory, using complementary hues to enhance colour sensation.  The drawings were of random mundane things I came across, for example, plants, flowers, crockery, and animals.  The intention was to create something autonomous, for the drawings to end up as distortions for themselves, to refer back to the process of making.  I would blur the hues on the line with a brush, thereby enhancing the optical effect.  Lines appear to shift; the colours fight for supremacy upon the boundary.

I used titling to refer to the idea that the paintings are about nothing but painting.  The subject for my work was colour and form, and so I used my titles to refer to chosen hues.  The most amount of my time was spent mixing oil colours, testing combinations and working out which hues best complemented each other and created that sort of ‘electricity’.

I was influenced at the time by painters Jane Harris, Jason Martin and Patrick Heron for their use of colour, application of paint, and use of lack of forms.  Their work was about painting and the formal elements of painting and nothing else.  It was Patrick Heron who stated that a jagged line is preferred to a straight one in the juxtaposition of two hues.
After my BA I spent more time on exhibition and promotion opportunities for my work, rather than focusing on the development of my work.  I’d sort of come to a resolution at the end of the BA, which was only really reached in the last few months and I wanted to carrying on working in the same line of enquiry.

Art Below 2008, on Embankment station.  Looking at other ways of getting your art seen.

I wanted to focus on colour and realise a painting in three-dimensions.  Here I played with sculpture.  I wanted the viewer to experience pure colour, to be able to walk around different colours of different masses and to experience the relationships with other colours.  I sort of wish I had carried on further with these, however at the time I was studio-less and it was a logistical nightmare in my tiny flat!

My paintings still revolved around pure colour complementaries, yet the forms came more from free form drawing, rather than my previous distortions.  In this piece I was charting the colour theory steps from violet and lemon yellow to ultramarine and orange.  At the time I had been researching the theories of Johannes Itten and Josef Albers on colour and how the placement of colours can affect the viewer’s perception of space.

I became a bit disinterested in complementaries as I felt I had taken it as far as it could go.  I became interested in Geography and islands.  I felt like my previous work looked like lone islands and so I thought I’d start doing drawings from islands and satellite imagery.  I felt detached from my work, as it meant nothing, it referred to nothing and I felt like I was losing the motivation to work.  If painting is about painting, what value did it have? 

The painting I put into Spike Island Open Studios 2009 was of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.  I mixed a dark violet hue, so dark it looked like black in certain lights, with a luminous yellow for the islands.  My process of painting remained the same – using the blurred line to create a sense of rhythm, and movement in the painting.  However, I started using damar varnish to hide brush-marks, the illusion of removing myself from the painting, to focus purely on what was being depicted.  The work was about abstraction with meaning, something that looked autonomous, yet was a very real and accurate depiction of the topography of an archipelago.  I was playing with our interpretation of landscape and reality.

I started being more experimental with my use of colours, finding other hues to make a sort of black.  Using colour playfully, breaking all the rules and trying to use as much colour as possible, yet in a controlled manner.  I wanted to see the outcome of using multiple hues, whether some hues would advance out of the picture plane and some would recede.  I started playing with reality in Archipelago Reconfigured, by mixing up the locations of islands.  By twisting the real, I was making my own world, a fantastical place.  I did not limit myself to just the Canadian Arctic, but looked at several other archipelagoes around the world [clusters of islands] including the Philippines, Hebrides, and the Mortlocks.  I was drawn the archipelagoes for their abstract and unrecognizable qualities.

As I became more interested in the locations and shapes, colour was becoming less and less important.  I started relying more upon drawing.  I found drawing could convey what I wanted in a simpler way that painting.  I think this was due to the monochromatic nature of drawing.

At this point I was becoming comfortable with painting and unsure as to if I should abandon it.  I became very precious about my style of painting which was now so familiar, drawing felt too risky.  I tried returning to colour theory, using multiple hues of the same colour as in Yellows to get the effect of advancing/receding forms.  I use homemade colour swatches to mix oils and find colour combinations.  In Collection of Faeroes I took eighteen islands and experimented with different colour combinations, some with heightened colour, some without any colour to work out a new direction to take my work.  I always find that the solution is realised in the act of doing.  The forms for Faeroes were altered, each island was unified in size and scale and the size of the canvases alluded to ideas of collecting, archiving and recording landscape.

I think what I resolved from these paintings, was that colour had become perfunctory.  I started to focus my work more on drawing, and the creation of forms.  I played with scales, locations and the order of geography in my creation of an almost alternative reality.  I wanted to create the illusion of three-dimensionality with tone.

At this point I was looking at artists Ingrid Calame, Arturo Herrera and Daniel Zeller for their use of drawings, lines and abstraction.  Ingrid Calame, in particular, uses process and line to give an interpretation of landscape.  She traces the stains and marks off roads and pavements.  Arturo Herrera draws abstract pieces from recognizable objects/figures, for example Disney figures.  He uses repetitious drawing to create unfamiliar shapes and patterns.  Whereas, Daniel Zeller draws microscopic structures in microscopic proportions.  He uses automatic drawing as a point of inspiration.  His work provokes questions of whether the work is a part of something or a representation of the whole.  His works appear otherworldly and dreamlike.

At this point in my work, I was having issues with the concept behind it.  Why was I drawing archipelagoes?  What was my intention?  Did my work have geographical or political concerns?  The use of geography marred with my intention of using pure form and shape.  I could not refer to drawing ad shape alone and still be driven by landscape.

I decided to ditch landscape and focus solely on process: the process of making a drawing and the process of obtaining shape.  I wanted my work to be autonomous and so I relied upon chance to direct my paintings rather than my own hand.  Process was integral to my work and I wanted to develop a process for drawing.  I experimented with various ways of letting chance control a drawing and in the end relied upon dice.  Using dice and co-ordinates, and graph paper, I could create a drawing without my control.

I started looking at Boyle Family, their work relies heavily on chance.  They create exact replicas of pavements/roads/ground using casting and objects.  Yet their pieces are still hung on the wall, they lie between painting and sculpture.  They employ dart throwing to pinpoint exact locations, throughout the world, they visit them, create casts and then recreate that location in their studio.  Chance controls their work, yet process directs it.

I experimented with different ways of drawing, layering shapes, increasing scale, deciding on the number of throws and creating a grid.  I was heavily in control, the dice did not leave me powerless, it just gave me a process to control.  The works became more about geometry; they were not about pure painting/drawing.  The subject and intention became unclear.  There was no reason to throw the dice at all, the work was wrapped up in the process but held no meaning.  It was pointless and if the only reason work was made was because I threw a dice? Well what would happen if I didn’t, nothing and the work would not be any less important.  Work was still there; the work was I didn’t throw a dice.  I felt I had become too nihilistic in my approach.

A turning point for me, was the Japanese Tsunami disaster of March this year.  I hadn’t made anything for a few weeks, and found myself suddenly interested in making again.  I was watching news sites of what was happening and tracing the developments.  I was particularly interested in the change in the Japanese landscape pre and post Tsunami.  I started collecting imagery and creating diagrammatic images, I wanted to convey the facts, how the topography had changed and the impact this natural event had had on our world.  I started using print more to quickly convey ideas and shapes.  Using gold to add weight to my imagery.  I experimented with different mediums, from cutouts to gouaches.  In this image I conveyed the before image in white on white to show a sense of loss, of devastation and the post Tsunami landscape in brown to show the destruction left behind.  I wanted to play with sing colours to convey my meaning.

I started using egg tempera on chalk ground again, for its simple appearance, neutral tones and feeling of weight, physicality and solidness.  The media is so fast, so transient and I wanted to create something that froze a moment in time.

In my interests in topography from natural and manmade events, I started looking at artists who have also been involved in this area.  My work is not eco art; I am not solely interested in ecological and climate change concerns.  I did not want to create didactic art that told the viewer what to believe and how to live.  Cape Farewell is a project using artists and scientists to look into eco concerns in the Arctic.  Artists Michele Noach and Tracey Rowledge have influenced me.  Tracey Rowledge went on an expedition with Cape Farewell to the Arctic and created work on route.  She hung a pen from the ceiling of her cabin and as the boat moved through the waters, the pen dripped ink and recorded their movements.  She uses process and abstraction to refer to the Arctic and issues concerning it without dictating ideas or opinions.

Wimbledon MA Graduate Show 05.09.11

Here are some photographs of my final work from the MA show.  I shared an exhibition space with 4 other artists and we curated the space together to ensure the final product was a fluid and composed exhibition.  All of our work focused on space and place, and so there were conceptual and theoretical links connecting our work together.  My work focused on changing topography and used egg tempera on chalk grounds.

Archive: Bear Glacier, Alaska; 1989, 2010, Petermann Glacier, Greenland 26.06.2010, 13.08.2010, New Valley Project, Egypt; 13.09.1987, 23.08.2000, 28.03.2011, Malosmadulu Atolls, The Maldives; 2011, Queensland, Australia; 14.12.2010, 04.01.2011, Barrow, Beaufort Sea Alaska, 07.2006, 07.2007, [36 x 36 cm each, 2011]

Petermann Ice Island, August 2011, egg tempera on chalk ground, 20 x 20 x 20 cm

Sudirman Glaciers, Papua, Indonesia; 1936, 1972, 2005, 70 x 150 cm each, 2011

Monday, 3 October 2011

Process Material Gesture

Process Material Gesture
What you see is what you see Frank Stella, 1959

The aim of this lecture is to introduce ideas of process, material and gesture.  The outcome of this session is that you will be able to define Process Art and identify artists, which belonged to it.

What is Process Art?

Kristine Stiles, 1996, wrote,

Process visualised both the actual conduct of materials and the behaviours of artists in their studios… What had begun in the 1940s, as attention to gesture in painting increasingly became a consciousness of how process informs practice at all levels from the studio to the support systems and institutions of art.

All art involves a process of creation.  On the most basic level, a painting is composed of several layers of gesso, primer, colours and glazes.  Traditional painting still employs a process despite its illusion to reality thus diminishing the trace of process.  By acknowledging process in art, the artist brings it back to the realm of art and distinguishes its distance from the real.

Process Art began in the 1960s and was often characterised as abstract monochromatic works.  Process painting also had a performative element in that is conveyed an action and evidenced time passing.  It can highlight the artists’ touch or the lack of.  Some artists employed mechanical processes to make their work and some used instruments other than the conventional paintbrush to apply paint.  For example, Jason Martin, as seen here, dragged paint across the surface of his stretcher with a piece of wood longer in width than the canvas stretcher.

Yve Alain-Bois, 1990, wrote of how this style of painting was solely about process and without narrative,

Like the hunt for sources that used to take place in literary studies or the search for the motif in art history… the narrative of process establishes a primary meaning, an ultimate, originating referent that cuts off the interpretative chain.  That is, an aesthetic of causality is reintroduced: …A (paintbrush) + B (paint) + C (support) + D (the manner in which these are combined) gives E (painting).  There would be nothing left over in this equation.  Given E, ABCD could be deciphered absolutely.

Therefore, Process Art was viewed as autonomous, and self-referential. It emphasised methods of working, but it did not completely banish all links to reality.  Many artists have been inspired by their surroundings and sought out a new visual language to communicate it.

Jackson Pollock was an Abstract Expressionist artist inspired by nature.  His drip paintings from the 1940s showed his involvement with the act of painting; he flung paint at his canvases, he poured and he dripped.  The tangled marks and lines revealed the essence of nature and the hidden torment of his mind.  He was interested in the essential components of painting: colour and line.  His paintings were very physical: he painted vast pieces on the floor in various ways from sticks to turkey-basters.  The work appears as a rhythmic performance or dance, full of movement and life.  The process led the work and defined it.

A contemporary artist, Ingrid Calame has a more formal systematic approach to painting.  Each piece is a trace of marks and stains found on pavements and roads, they have different locations giving context to the work.  She uses layers of tracing paper to build the final image.  Each piece traces one mark in a different colour until the final layer reveals a maze of abstract forms and colours.  The work may refer to reality. But it is orchestrated by process.  Process becomes the work.