All of these were done in the last couple of months and all in the same way – an old painting covered up with Payne´s grey, new paint applied/scraped with a palette knife, here and there disrupted with a brush.
Although none of them are intentionally one or the other, for me they range from obviously figurative to more or less abstract. For me again, the more spatial they are, the more figurative and the more figurative, the more spatial.
And the more spatial they are, the more engaging too – not because the figuration is in any way interesting (this is what I mean with “bland figuration”) but because the viewer´s projection of virtual space enables (or drags along) a simultaneous projection of subjective feeling, modulated by the surface shapes and colours. The more abstract, less spatial paintings tend to lack that element of “recognition”, not of figures but of some kind of subjective truth. Or that´s my thinking at the moment.
I think that the “presence” of a painting (as discussed in a previous thread by Emyr) is also determined by its spatiality, this time in combination with a strong awareness of surface. The crude psychology that I imagine to lie behind this is that our survival demands a much stronger response to things that move towards us than to things that recede. If a painting allows a to-and-fro between virtual space and material surface then the approach of the surface registers more strongly than the recession into space, leaving us with a semi-conscious impression that the painting is somehow pressing into the space in front of its material self.
On a screen, paintings lose most of their surface and thereby nearly all of their presence.
Resolution in the surface pattern and coherence of the virtual space are both important goals for me. The difference between modernism and postmodernism has been described (David Harvey in “The Condition of Postmodernity”) as modernity´s belief-in plus struggle-to-attain wholeness, truth, maturity, integration etc. in the face of fragmentation and alienation, whereas postmodernity embraces that fragmentation and alienation. In this sense (and maybe in others too) these are old-fashioned paintings.
I absolutely appreciate the arguments against figuration – that it “hijacks” the painting with illustration and narrative, that it places non-visual constraints on the artistic process, that it can tend to confirm rather than question our perceptions. On the other hand, I imagine any “new way” of seeing must include but transcend old ways of seeing in the same way that the physics of relativity includes but transcends Newtonian physics.
As to constraints, that is not my experience at all. The figuration in all of these paintings is discovered rather than worked-towards. Most have been turned several times in the search for an interesting and convincing virtual space. Almost all of the conscious, deliberate, local decisions have been about colour and surface.
Finally, I find that many of the criteria for what is figurative and what is abstract somewhat dogmatic and arbitrary. Just one example: Atmospheric / oceanic space is widely accepted as abstract where to my mind it is about as figurative as it gets (the clue is in the name).
I tend to see abstract painting as a process rather than a result.