The aim of this technique is to re-purpose the kind of paper and plastic which come to me without me having to go looking for it at all. It’s really just a matter of collecting up this stuff. Preparation involves cutting up the plastic into a variety of shapes and sizes, and tearing up the paper material. Then, as i go, I cut up some useful shapes for facial features as I see fit. This technique is very easy on the hands, and incredibly cost effective, so I expect to be doing more of these in the colder months.
I glue it all down with mod podge glue, and once dry I paint over them with acrylic gel medium.
Collaged Face #1
Collage with newsprint, coupons and plastic bags on 600gsm paper.
Collaged Face #2
Collage with plastic bags on 600gsm paper.
As I mentioned previously, I had realised that the formalist approach was limiting, in that it’s not an approach designed for expressionism. I wanted to work in a way which was more intuitive, and could express my feelings in a simple way which could appeal to a wide range of people. Of course, I was still wanting to use non-toxic mediums, but I hadn’t really experimented with watercolour and acrylic.
So I purchased some hardboard and gum tape with the intention of building up grounds with blending and blotching techniques. The resulting textures I could then gaze at for a while and anthropomorphise whatever figures and forms I see. I was getting into various conspiracy theories at the time, and these kind of became source material for the works, which were devoid of colour, for the dual purpose of making the process simpler, and expressing feelings of despair which were associated with working a lowly part time job and needing some welfare to supplement my income.
I continued exploring the same themes while beginning to bring in colour, especially by way of water soluble crayons and acrylic.
I was enjoying these much more, but still felt like they were a means to an end. They are imitations, especially of Jean Michel Basquiat, from whom I was definitely learning helpful things, but whose style i also wanted to divorce myself from a bit.
I decided to look a little closer to home for inspiration for how to move forward. I took the time to watch a few documentaries on New Zealand artist Ralph Hotere, whose ingenuity gave me some good ideas. He uses words in his work, and he manages to merge minimalist style with expressionism. I’ve also been lucky to have been exposed to the paper assemblages of James Robinson, who really exploits paper in ways which allow for the element of surprise akin to that of how I imagine the alchemists of old went about their work.
He’s also a fellow chigong student, and introduced me to Yuan Gong, a simpler style of chigong invented by Yuan Tze, which I have since begun to learn and practise.
These two artists, along with Shane Cotton, have managed to continue along the same line as Colin McCahon, in the way that they explore the sacred and the sublime aspects of New Zealand life without resorting to obvious and over-used “Kiwiana”, as so many here are like to do.
During this period I picked up another part time job, so another challenge these days is managing my time so that I can continue to be productive with both poetry and painting.
This almost brings us up to present day, where I find myself trying to find the best way for me to do all of the things I want to in painting, and to make it cost effective.
Zhineng Chigong was working well for me, so the following year I learnt the second method, otherwise known as “Body/Mind Form”. It involves a lot more stretching and opening up of the meridian channels than the first method. I was devoting two to three hours of every day to chigong. I was taking steps to change my diet, as I had read a graphic novel called “Epileptic” in which the author writes about his being brought up with a brother who had severe epilepsy, and his parents’ struggle to try to find an alternative treatment for him. Their journey at one point lead them to stay at a Macrobiotic commune, where the author’s brother enjoyed quite a lengthy period without seizures, until the commune had to move off the land, and so was fractured, leaving him and his family having to search for another solution.
I just happened to be looking on a clearance table in a bookstore one day, when I came across “The Macrobiotic Way” by Michio Kushi. I think it was marked down to ten dollars; what a bargain for such a great little book! I had been struggling with my diet, as taking Tegretol had made be somewhat irregular, and a diet based on whole grains just seemed to make perfect sense to me. I had decreased my tegretol dosage a little by now, and was taking 100mg fast release in the morning, and 400mg slow release in the evening (as I have nocturnal epilepsy).
I had taken it upon myself to seek out a part time job, which I knew would be tough, considering the arthritis, the need to wear shades to prevent my eyes both from bright light and from dryness, and the fatigue. I got in touch with a local agency set up to help those with disabilities find jobs, and long story short, I got a permanent part time position with a market research company, which allowed me to work from home. The idea of “cold calling” and the thought of having to deal with disgruntled respondents didn’t bother me, as I saw the opportunity to put into practice some of those Toltec and Chigong principles and techniques I had been learning, in order to stay calm and focused in tense situations.
The extra money I was earning allowed me to fund my own solo exhibition in an underground gallery which had just started up in the central city at the time, called simply “The Room”:
The show was called “Swallow Or Be Swallowed”, a quote I had taken from Joseph Campbell whose books i was reading at the time which seemed to sum up the attitude one needs on the healing and artistic journey.
Basquiat, Dubuffet, and Cy Twombly were heavily influencing my stylistic and technical approach at the time. I had found in Neo-Expressionism a way to release my anxiety, and to create large paintings (A1 or A2 size) which could communicate in a very graphic way thought feelings and ideas as they arose.
I was still dissatisfied with the lack of consistency of style and theme.
I was hoping to find a way of resolving this issue, and to have another show at The Room in maybe 6 to 8 months. Little did I know, however, what was in store for Christchurch City…
Now that my physical and psychological states were on the improve, I decided to return to the painting, but knew I would need a new style and technique. Having a love of words, I had been wanting to try to incorporate them into my visual art for quite some time, but just didn’t know how, or in what way.
I had seen the film “Basquiat” on the life and art of 1980s New York painter Jean Michel Basquiat, which opened my eyes up to styles like Neo-Expressionism, Art Brut, and even childrens’ art. I was also looking more at NZ artists Colin McCahon, Ralph Hotere, Phiip Trusttum, and James Robinson, who all had different ways of using words in their paintings.
I set out to imitate ways they were doing this, but had the idea to also bring in some mathematics and references to science.
Here are some of my first steps into that unfamiliar realm:
So, as you can see, two things are obvious: my intention to get away from detailed rendering, and the way that they all look quite different, and so I was having trouble thematically, technically, and stylistically.
I also had the urge to want to communicate my journey into Chigong:
These works were A2 size, and done with a big fat calligraphy brush, and the only thing that remotely links them to the other works was the addition of my own words, which were sometimes in the form of poetry.
A friend and I applied for and received a creative communities grant through the Christchurch city council to have a joint show, at Gallery O in the Arts Centre, which we called “Cultivation”. I didn’t sell any work, but the fact that it was a public gallery meant we manned it ourselves, and it was interesting talking to people about their perceptions of different works. There was enough encouragement to make me want to continue along this path, I was just foggy on how to go about it.