My personal encounter alongside the process of deterioration of a house, memories with an uncanny sensation.
Inside of Us: The Uncanny & the Un-homely
Finding my Theme:
I found my theme after reflection on my tutor’s feedback after my last assignment related to painting as documentation and the link to Cornelia Parker’s ‘blowing the shed’ documentation. I was remembering a residential building in our neighbourhood that deteriorates since some time. I passed by couple of times, always looking at it, feeling unsettled. Now after the last tenant passed away, being vacant, a rather anonymous building, obviously absence of people, hidden and concealed. The traffic around, business as usual, and I walked further.
I felt now the urge to document, at least me personal feelings and my encounter with that building – once a home of a family. See my initial thoughts – here.
I was thinking about my previous works in the Swiss mountains, my exploration of the sublime. Now I felt it came closer, not nature as such triggering emotional responses. It is the human presence, a home, that unsettled me, a sense of uncanny sensation. See my photoshoot – here
Researching more what this mean, I looked into the psychological background of the uncanny, its articulation especially end of 19th century in drama, theatre and last century in cinema. In its original sense as expressed by S Freud the ‘uncanny’ of or ‘un-homely’ refers to a repressed and estranged sense of encountering the familiar – fearful an threatening which lies within the nearness, the inside. This resonates well with my personal encounter of the vacant deteriorating house. See my research – here.
The German expressionistic cinema was infused with uncanny features. Architectural elements often supported the uncanny sensation. But at the end it is sitting inside of us, our associated memories, our fear, our worries, that triggers the fearful sensations of the uncanny. I looked at one literature as written words are quite powerful in triggering fantastic imaginations and feelings with the reader. See my conclusions on F. Kafka ‘The Burrow’ – here.
With my theme settled, my subject matter in place, I went ahead to map out my thoughts and decided to go along a preparation phase in four areas to identify the most successful one, or perhaps a combination as part of my final series of paintings. Not all in one, but side by side. Further and extended sketchbook studies supported me in answering compositional and subject questions. See my post on mindmap and developing ideas – click here.
Conclusions from my preparatory studies in four areas:
Further aspects that influenced my approach to painting and my selection of paintings (my curatorial choice) are texture and abstraction, overpainting photographs, and process as painting though monotype and other painting in process approaches.
Abstraction: It was the first time I painted abstract. Some paintings from the exercise still based on representational objects, but further studies gave a new direction in my painting approach. Begin fully involved the making and responding to my emotional responses on my theme. I felt very strong of some pieces, emotionally touched, although some were done rather simple, minimalistic. I feel more inclined towards the approach of the Korean movement ‘Dansaekhwa‘ – building up layers and responding to the underlying images and textures. Less towards the western modern abstract approach of reduction. Further to see my works in the context of Barnett Newman and his approach to the contemporary sublime (Morley, 2010), examples ‘Vir Heroicus Sublimis‘, 1950-51, an embodied approach to experience the artwork in the here and now. A kind of the viewer’s interrogation with memories reflecting by the painting. But I tend and prefer a less rigid straightness. Newman’s straight painting seem at times too sterile for me. Do like Mark Rothko’s color field painting more. Also in the sense of the Japanese approach of Wabi-Sabi, the beauty of imperfection and unfinished. I decided to post three of my more successful abstract works for critique on the OCA Discuss Forum (Available from: https://discuss.oca-student.com/t/preparation-for-painting-assignment-abstraction/4257?u=stefan513593)
Key learnings from peer review:
I felt that a few feedback comments are resonating with my theme:
- “A feeling of not wanting to go near it”
- “Something which has lived, I can’t smell it, I can’t touch it”
- “A remove from the familiar”
- “How little we need to build worlds”
- “Corroding away at the facade of the smile”
It doesn’t need representational elements to evoke memories and emotional responses. The materiality of textured surfaces and abstract patterns do invite the viewer into the picture plane and give space for open enquiries.
As my first shot on abstract painting I could sense my strong emotional engagement with the making and looking at them. I thought that they would fit well into my chosen theme of the uncanny and the unhomely. Having some misgivings like ‘too simple’ I decided to post three works for peer review. I truly appreciated provided feedback from my peers. I was surprised how close their emotional responses were to mine at times. They related the paintings to the familiar, memories, and decay. To human presence and intervention, to stormy sea and calm. The materiality of tactile sensation came across strong. Questions were raise about hidden and concealed layers. All very close to aspects I related to in my project. Saying that I would say that those works are successful as they were engaging the audience.
Process painting: I really enjoyed the step by step approach in previous parts of this course and my tutor encouraged me to look further into that. With reference to monoprint and photography and my theme of deterioration of a residential building it seemed obvious that this would be the way forward. However, I felt that my studies – part of project 2 and one extended – were more engaged with materials and less with the process of making the painting. I felt that my previous course works more successful in that area. Quite likely because of being too self-conscious and working on triptych paintings instead on one painting only.
Afterwards I was still wondering how to address painting as process respectively painting as documentation in a more successful approach.
Cross technique approaches with monotype turned out to be a more successful endeavour that I truly enjoyed doing. In my approach of overpainted photographs I could also grasp some ideas of process as painting through layers of realities (photo, paint, new picture). My final paintings have to address this.
Monotype: Considering my learnings above from consciously making process paintings, I studies in parallel the options of monotype, Something I explored earlier on in this course as ‘Decalcomania’ – now more as a printing approach. To slow down the process of making the painting as each layer had to be done seperately.
My final studies with positive and negative marks and trace monotype was for me the most successful one. I like the dialogue of positive and negatives, as both are part of the same object. Like us and our perceptions, like the ‘uncanny’ (‘unheimlich’) cannot be there without the ‘familiar, homely’ (‘heimlich, heimelig’) To use this in my painting seems to be an appropriate approach and response to my theme.
Overpainting photographs: First I thought working with photographs as a kind of collage can be only an intermediate step towards painting, I was struggling in justifying that to myself. Eventually my experimental and loose approach was fun and gave me visually very new ideas how to proceed. ‘Repeating’ Gerhard Richter’s approach with overpainting smaller photocards turned out to be quite a positive surprise for me. I appreciate the approach by Andrew Haire to get inspired for new paintings based on overpainted photographs. Something I would like to continue working on – what for the sake of time and focus left apart in this assignment.
I discovered that the juxtaposition of a photograph print and paint are reflecting on two different realities. Not to say that one is more true than the other. I feel that combining them and making a new picture with its own reality is quite intriguing. In this context I find the words by Craig Donald in his artist statement intriguing: “…structuring and control of consciousness and experience of reality, particularly in relation to history and memory.” (QueenStreetStudios, Craig Donald)
As part of my assignment I was mostly intrigued by my overpainted photographs, double photocards and my sketchbook studies with transferred photographs – click here.
Other aspects of my painting approach
One main aspect that mostly came through is embracing the elements of chance and not-control. I can truly relate to the approach by Graham Chorlton (b. 1953) and his interest “… in the moment of becoming, when pools of colour might become an image. Ultimately the works are representational of states of mind, created through image, light and the behaviour of paint.” (NewArt WM, Graham Charlton)
Another aspect for me is time and space. I learned from my peer review on three abstract paintings, that time perception is linked to memories and e.g. ‘Abstract #3‘ was often referred to memories of walls old homes of parents or grandparents.
Decision on way forward:
As part of the preparation I started early on with sketchbook experiments. See my post ‘Sketchbook pages (14): Visual ideas for my project‘ – click here – and my post ‘Sketchbook pages (15): Visual ideas for my project – photograph transfer‘ – click here.
I extended my studies and visual exploration especially investigating overpainting photographs as one of my main focus areas.
Some selection from sketchbooks:
see also – click here.
I worked also on studies of overpainting my own paintings, acrylic transfer or , inkjet prints – click here. I do not consider those in my assignment selection of series of painting as they are too remote from my theme compared to other paintings and not successful.
As a painting that I would like to include in my series of paintings would be one embracing my sketchbook studies but on larger scale and on canvas. I decided to make the painting based on two photographs taken from location. Transferred the inkjetprint (normal paper, image of deteriorated roof at the top and image of window at the bottom half) onto a primed canvas and continued to work in oil for its fluidity an materiality.
Relating to my exploration of process painting and a sequence of imagined deterioration – although also personal experienced over time, no photographs though. The transfer worked not so well. I embraced the ‘mistakes’ and worked from what I have, a further remove from the reality of the photograph and the physical reality of a intact building and a familiar home.
Work in progress:
=> Overall I am satisfied with the results and the progress of this painting.
My selection of paintings:
Here my choice of five paintings chosen from my preparatory works that includes exercises in context of my project as well as new painting. I put them here in chronological order as they were made over the last few weeks. In this sense I would consider my selection rather a my curatorial effort to present a portfolio informed by my theme.
My rationale for selection:
- Relevance to my subject matters with key aspects of deterioration, uncanny sensation, memories, and internal/external, human presence and remove of familiarity.
- Narrative of paintings and sequence of painting. Representation of various kinds of realities (e.g. photographed reality, paint reality, personal response reality)
- Juxtaposition of pictures that present external images e.g. deteriorating house and pictures that evoke internal sensations by the viewer (abstract paintings)
- A tactile and embodied experience (for me and the viewer)
- Presentation of my personal encounter with the house and my visual journey through the project.
What I left out or did not consider at this time:
- More elaborated paintings inspired by photographs but without using them explicitly
- More elaborated paintings based on my monotypes series with adding further layers of paint, kind of adding further realities.
- Extension into painting as documentation, a sequential approach? Although one could consider my selection of paintings as a documentation of my visual journey.
- Including text or words as an intrinsic part of the painting. I explored this briefly during part 4 with my digital composite. I also discussed this deeper with my fellow students on the OCA discuss forum (see at: https://discuss.oca-student.com/t/composition-what-works/4120?u=stefan513593 ). I had to learn that including text in a painting in a coherent way can be quite tricky. Eventually I took this off and kept my text within my sketchbook, kind of annotated pictures what felt rather natural to me.
- Format: I didn’t consider book format in this assignment although I could envisions this with my series of sketchbook works and my series of monotypes alongside my associated words and phrases, or alongside comments from others as obtained through peer review.
Painting #1 – ‘Corroding away at the facade of the smile‘:
Mixed Media on polystyrene (50 x 50 cm)
=> A painting done in the scope of a project exercise of this part. I decided already since project 2 to let my chosen theme of my personal project inform my exercise paintings. This painting is based on materials that are quite common in interior design and building: polystyrene boards (50x50cm) for ceilings and plaster for walls, ceilings
I applied a layered approach, starting somehow one would start when renovating a room. Adding inkjet prints from taken location photographs, newspaper clippings related to housing, and eventually a dripping paint layer. The latter informed by my previous project work in part 4 – ‘Squaring up‘. For me a layer of concealing and not-control. Although I had some misgivings at the end of project work related to the scale end placement of the photographs I decided to include this into my final series for its relevance to my personal encounter with the house.
My painting approach for this was also based on my desire to get closer in touch with the inside of the fenced and concealed house. Curiosity and eager to sneak inside, a gaze?, what is concealed becomes attractive, an unsettling sensation of
See more details and work in progress at the relevant post of project 2 ‘ Preparing a Textured ground‘ – click here.
Painting #2 – ‘Not wanting to go near it‘
Acrylic and enamel paint on canvas board (50 x 40 cm)
=> This painting was done in the scope of the abstract project of this part. I decided to let all my abstract paintings be informed by my project and taken photographs. The chosen objects in close up views indicating human presence (e.g. concealing doors and letter box, decaying window curtain). This painting is an abstraction, thus a representational painting, of the decaying satellite dish. It is based on glossy enamel paint which I learned to appreciate to work with in project 1. I wanted to add a contrasting visual effect as my theme is also about contrasting aspects (uncanny-homely, familiar-removed) and used matte acrylic paint.
I placed this and the next abstract painting for peer review and this encouraged me to include the into my series of paintings.
See more details and work in progress at the relevant post of project 3 ‘ Abstract paintings from man-made objects’ – click here.
Painting #3 – ‘How little we need to build worlds‘:
Acrylic on canvas (60 x 50 cm) ‘
=> I did this painting building on my experience with abstraction in project 3 and my exploration of materiality and texture. I used cat litter (quite a common material for the homely family environment with cats) and acrylic paint on gesso ground. I was infused with my personal encounter of the house, returning from a visit to my studio and let my hand follow rather unconsciously the surface. A very tactile sensation. And compared to above painting #2 without any specific object in mind, not representational at all. Pure presentation of material and texture.
As mentioned also this abstract painting was put for peer review.
See more details and work in progress at the relevant post of ‘Preparation: Texture, Index and Abstraction‘ – click here.
Painting #4 – ‘Something which has lived, I can’t smell it, I can’t touch it‘:
Monotype with linoprint and Akua intaglio paint on paper (each approx. A4)
=> My intention to look into monotype was informed by my previous project paintings with decalcomania – click here – and informed by my tutor that some some sequences of painting steps reminds of step separating and relating this to monoprinting and photography. From initial experiments I decided to go for traced monoprints as I can capture positive and negative marks with the same plate in two runs.
The chosen series of six, for me to be seen as one painting, are process step prints from two series.
1) a series of six traced monotypes in black lino print paint on Rhenalon plate.. I printed the traced monotype and the imprint on the printing plate. I repeated this sequence three times.
2) a series of six traced monotypes in yellow Akua intaglio paint and black lino print paint on styrene plate. Here the traces are engraved in the plate, leaving negative (white) marks on the prints.
For all I used the photograph from the main door of the deteriorating building.
The shown series is not in order of making as I decided between all 12 prints those that could be considered as a narrative of my theme – presented by the door.
The chosen prints are #1 and #4 from series 1) and #3, 4, 5, 6 from series 2). Arranged by overall visual appearance and framed by the monochrome image of the door, the last one the ‘ghost’ print, fading image – like fading memories.
More details on my monotype studies as a slowing down process approach to painting are in my separate post ‘Preparation: Monotype, Monoprint and other transfer experiments‘ – click here. Related to this painting sequence some further information on painting as process are in my separate post ‘Preparation: Process painting‘ – click here.
Painting #5 – ‘A remove from the familiar’ :
Oil and collage on canvas (60 x 22 cm)
=> As mentioned above I decided to include a newly made painting for my series of paintings. Done with acrylic transferred inkjet prints and oil paint in layers. Letting the images inform my painting.
This painting is something like a construction and de-construction of images. The broken layer of the transferred inkjet print convey a new visual dimension. As a different reality.
Order of series of paintings and installation considerations:
I showed above my selected paintings in chronological order of making. I decided to re-order the series
I gave my paintings title from my peer review. Knowing that I posted only painting #1 and painting #2 I still think that the my choice of the isolated comments to resonate with my project as a whole. I am grateful for the five people to allow me to use their words as my painting titles. Another aspect why I choses those and not something like ‘untitled’ what I initially intended to do for my two abstract paintings to avoid constrained responses. I also avoided to use fancy imagined titles or titles mirroring just the visual content of the image. My choice has a more poetic touch to it as once mentioned to me by a fellow student who looked at another painting of mine. Also I consider this as part of intersubjective responses to my paintings.
So my final order of paintings are:
Painting #4 -> Painting #1 -> Painting #2 -> Painting #5 -> Painting #3
Rationale: Starting with a focused object. Quite similar what I did when visiting the house. First a general view and than zoom in on specific objects. Than the painting of destruction followed by abstract painting to evoked emotional responses. Going over to a more distant overall perception and finishing with an abstract painting for the viewer to look inside and response emotionally.
There might be different sequences possible as: starting with abstract and getting more representational towards the end, as a kind of explanation. Or vice versa. Eventually I decided or the mentioned sequence to embed abstract and partly representational and to allow for a certain visual flow of color and monochrome.
Ideas for installation of my series of paintings:
I got inspired by the installation of works by Craig Donald. Initially I thought that my paintings should fit a certain format and visual coherent appearance. Looking at Donald’s work I came to the conclusion that this doesn’t need to be. I already discovered in exhibitions other ways of presenting works, e.g. Juliette Blightman‘s approach as cluster presentation of her-self.
Craig Donald is saying about his approach: “I subvert traditional narratives and historical models in order to create alternative histories, blending fact and fiction and the personal with the political.” (QueenStreetStudios, Craig Donald) I find his approach intriguing and would like to make up my mind with doing so. But I think this would go out of scope of this course and would be reasonable for me to look upon during level 2 and 3, now that I am on the Fine Art degree pathway.
Here two possible installation views:
The question is hanging. I read that traditional height for paintings to hand is middle axis (medium eye level) at 150cm. So my paintings should be arranged around this eye level.
a) more classical installation, the viewer moves left to right, eye level:
b) a more contemporary installation – the viewer gets and embodied sensation of viewing with layers of images, looking up and down (like one does when visiting a place, a house). I arranged three shapes of a symbolic house. The middle shapes with a very faded image of a door (the one I used of my monotype painting series #4):
Will this work? Hard to say as I didn’t try in real physical life – just an idea to play with.
As another possible presentation of works are inspired by my triptych approach with process painting and a fund way of playing with physical triptych panels (e.g. Hieronymus Bosch ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’, 1490-1510) An unfolding of images as an embodied and physical experience of visual images. A small folding flayer with 5 images from painting painting #4 – ‘Something which has lived, I can’t smell it, I can’t touch it‘:
- Tremendous work and exploration of various aspects. I could have explored more. Eventually with consolidation of what I achieved it became clearer. A certain thread coming through.
- I learned with my making of different approaches and my contextual research how expansive the area can get. Main aspects that I learned though making: different realities (e.g. photograph, paint), layers of images and meanings, emotional responses evoked through texture and materiality.
- Overall quite an experimental and perhaps unfinished series of paintings. Some aspects stayed at the surface (e.g. monotype and elaborated stand alone paintings) some I did explore more in depth (e.g. overpainted photographs).
- I can envision a wider body of work on that theme with more elaborated paintings. I eliminated certain aspects from my work as highlighted above- to stay focus and experimental.
Evaluation of my assignment:
Write an evaluation of your series of paintings and of the progress that you feel you have made as a painter. Draw attention to the parts of the course that have furnished you with the most creative resources and explain why that is.
Possible statement at the end to phrase / objective for level 2:
- eg ‘painting as documentation’ the documentation as my artwork with supportive painted images part of the documentation
- My personal project brought me in contact with two new approaches to painting: monotype and overpainted photograph.
- As highlighted above there may be still more work to be done for me in the areas of:
– More elaborated paintings inspired by photographs but without using them explicitly
– More elaborated paintings based on my monotypes series with adding further layers of paint, kind of adding further realities.
– Extension into painting as documentation, a sequential approach
– Including text or words as an intrinsic part of the painting.
– Format: Considering book format. Possible from my series of sketchbook works or my series of monotypes alongside my associated words and phrases, or alongside comments from others as obtained through peer review.
Morley, S. (ed.) (2010) The sublime. London: Whitechapel Art Gallery.
- NewArt WM ‘Graham Chorlton‘ [Online] Available from:– http://newartwm.org/artist/graham-chorlton/ [accessed 06 Jan 2017]
- QueenStreetStudios ‘Craig Donald‘ [Online] Available from: http://www.queenstreetstudios.net/studios/craig-donald/ [accessed 08 Jan 2017]
- Schaffeld, S. (weblog category posts, Jan – March 2017) ‘Assignment 5′. Available from: http://ocapainting1.stefanschaffeld.com/?cat=15
- Schaffeld, S. (weblog category posts, Jan – March 2017) ‘Sketchbooks’. Available from: http://ocapainting1.stefanschaffeld.com/?cat=23