WHAT PROJECT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT PRESENT
I am working on a theme and the theme is satisfying enough. There is no specific geographic location or structure as to where it is going to go physically.
The work is based on urban industrial landscape. So… factories, streets…the reality is that as a city dweller, it is the landscape that I am confronted with every day. I don’t live in the bush or out on a farm so to me it the type of image I take notice of when I’m driving around, or when I am ruminating about how light hits things. I see it hitting buildings; I don’t see it hitting the trees. That is not to say that people who do do pastoral landscapes are being dishonest because it is whatever engages you, and wherever it is that you see poetry that can be expressed.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR ART PRACTICE IN RELATION TO THE LANDSCAPE?
AP: Do you use photographic material?
Yes I do work from photographs. Part of this is time restriction (I run a business so every day I am at work), but I also find that photograph work best for me: I take a lot of them because very few of them present compositional opportunities within them…..and then I very rarely adhere too much to what actually is on the photograph. So things get shifted around, as if I was creating a still life, to make the image work: the colours will change, the texture will change, because the painting is the most important. My paintings are not exactly a portrait
AP: so you could basically compose from different photos? You are not actually painting a representation of a specific location for the sake of painting that location?
Absolutely not, no, and I think that is an important distinction. It is a bit like…Rembrandt doing a self-portrait. Why is the self-portrait important? because it contains that universal humanity…it’s not just a self-portrait. So for me this is an orchestration of the elements that create my painting, as Morandi would a still life.
….The subject matter has a degree of importance but it is not location specific, I am not doing a portrait of a place.
AP: What is you medium of choice (if any) and how does it influence your work?
It is oil paint…often with an under paint of acrylic, often using quite bright colours which will come through the painting, like you can see here, the purple that comes through here.
I also use smooth enamel and various textures, house paint, I don’t mind experimenting. I see these house paints all the time and they last outside for 10 years so you can put them inside they will last quite well. Enamels will yellow overtime though…. A lot of people use enamel.
[pointing to a painting on the side..] This one is quite a nice one actually, you can virtually pour in on, it comes out so smooth…
AP: So you are starting from a base colour, you don’t actually start from white?
I generally start from a beige colour with additional acrylic paint painted over it, that’s my ground. And I use a lot of gel medium to build up my surfaces, it gives me a nice finish. I’s an oil based gel medium, mixing it with the paint it builds up to a pasty smooth sort of ……if I could afford it I would do it just with paint! [laughs] because surface is important in my images.
AP: do you draw?
I do, yes. I life draw once a week, but I don’t draw in preparation for my works: they go straight on, starting in charcoal but I don’t do preparation drawing. It is an expressionist sort of thing, everyone is a bit different. Some people do meticulously plan out paintings, but I like to work instinctively, it is a journey of discovery from the moment you first lay a bit of charcoal and then start drawing the actual painting. It seems to make sense to do it that way for me.
AP: do you actually search for locations or you just drive by and see things?
I am always on the lookout.. but all these work have been done from the one site. And I actually can move away from this site. It’s the tone of this building and the light that it gets. I have tried it from every angle!
There are certain places, you know…. Take Cockatoo Island, it has all the elements that I’d want but for whatever reason it’s not a revelation. It’s a park. It’s almost like I need the ghost of generations of manufacturing people or workers of that middle class still being there. And in Cockatoo Island it doesn’t feel like it’s there anymore. It doesn’t mean that I won’t find things to do in there but I haven’t yet.
AP: So you are saying that there is a social dimension into what captures your attention at the moment?
Yes….. I guess….. I reflect on….[thinking]…..I lost my parents in the last few years, they were both working class people, and my father had a furniture manufacturing factory that I grew up in. An so…that lifestyle, that culture is very strong in our family: at the end of the year, everyone would have the same four weeks off when they closed the factory down, everyone would meet at the same caravan park, you know. It is a culture that is not so prevalent now; we have seen that kind of thing being slowly superseded by outsourcing overseas…
Yes, I thing that side of things appeals to me… or rather than appeals, there seems to be a need for me to express that.
I went the “Sydney Moderns exhibition” last year, it was great, there was these images by Max Dupain, images of the Harbour bridge being half built and factories …. that was in the late 30’s, not even a century ago, and I just realised that these paintings actually share a similar thread to what mine did.
….Yet there was almost flag, a promise of what the future was going to be. And after a very short time I am actually painting them at the end of their relevancy.
So it might not be so much a social comment as it is a nostalgic attraction to these structures.
What I also like is that these structures are actually 100% functional: everything is built for function. And there is a certain beauty in that, certain poetry in its directness of focus. So to be able to manipulate that into a painting and make a bit of poetry out of that is beautiful in a sense. There are so many things that are already beautiful and they will be beautiful, but I’m trying to find the charm in these structures… also I don’t go for pretty colours, I rather prefer tertiary, or
But it took a long time to get to me: I’ve had three solo shows of straight landscape before.
FIGURE OR NO FIGURE IN THE LANDSCAPE?
There are none… the viewer is the figure…unless a figure can contribute to the composition I don’t need one. I am not trying to tell a story. I am trying to create a “visual poem”, a piece of poetry.
I don’t want anything in my paintings that is superfluous, and don’t want anything that sort of interferes with the aesthetic that I am trying to create. I can’t say I achieve it all the time, see, this one is quite busy…
AP: But I see what you are saying, you are aiming for in-temporality, a sense of “no time” and if you were to place a figure it would become a “moment in time”
Yes. It is distancing oneself from the figurative notion. I think I would be almost nonobjective if I could, except I don’t know how to do that…. I can’t let go of a certain amount of figurative because as you were saying before, when you are trying to identify what you are as a painter, when you are trying to find out what motivates you, you have got to work with the vision you have.
…I have ruminated about the lack of a figure …..
I guess, also, having a figure in there is introducing humanity. And maybe it’s just too easy a way to introduce humanity. The way to introduce humanity for me is in the imperfection of the surface, in the handling of it, the tactile-ness, to feel like someone has actually….hmmm, maybe it is the identity of ME, the artist, the person who want to see in there, not to be distracted by another character.
COULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR BACK GROUND AND EARLY YEARS (childhood, development to being an artist)?
I was born in Australia, and my parents were, and my grandparents were on my mother side, so we have been here for a long time, and always in Sydney.
As a child I drew constantly, pencils and paper, all the time, and I used to draw people. And then you know when I was in high school I was copying album covers, And you know at that time when you do it well you impress the other kids, it’s something you are good at. Some kids run fast or are good at playing football, well, I could draw. And I would do these surrealistic drawing that appeal to that age group. Then came HSC and… I didn’t do art!
AP: would your parent have disapproved?
No! They were pretty good that way… but I think they disapproved of me going to college [note: St George college of the Arts]. But maybe it was also not facing up
the fact that I might have been ordinary! [Smiling]
Then I went to Tafe (St George)… and I became probably the only person in history who failed first year Tafe in Art!!!
AP: were they that tough at the time?
Oh no, I was almost unmanageable…I wasn’t a good kid!! I was disruptive, I had a good time! So for me it was mostly a question of growing up, you didn’t even have to be a good artist to past first year, you just had to turn up!
I guess I was taught by a lot of teachers who came from that school who love Bonnard and Cezanne, Andrew Christofides was probably the only abstractionist who came into it and he sort of never let on the kind of work he did, he was very encouraging of whatever you did or where you went. We also had Van Nunen in that first year, so they were all kind of landscape based influences you know…Christofides was the art renegade who was reading “Art in America”!
HAVE YOU TRAVELED & USED OVERSEAS LANDSCAPE AS A SOURCE OF INSPIRATION? how did this influence the work?
No…I haven’t travelled since I was young. I travelled to the Asian countries when I was in my twenties, but I haven’t travelled much except for within this country.
….what I focus on is rather what I have lifelong connection with. I don’t feel the need to go to the outback or the South of France to be inspired and do a series of painting from. I would be inspired to photograph, or eat food! [smiling]
If I was to travel I would most likely meet galleries or artists and find out the human motivation, find out what motivates someone in New York, what motivates someone in Russia, and that, you can absorb, because that can give you a greater vocabulary.
MY NEXT QUESTION WAS GOING TO BE “DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL CONNECTION TO THE AUSTRALIAN LANDSCAPE BUT it is not really relevant …
Indeed: going back to these structures, they are universal because they are built to be functional. There is no “Australian style” to the way they are built as opposed to a say….a German style. Because they are boxes, with space in the inside. They are rectangular, because it is probably the most economical way to create space….
WHAT ARE YOUR INFLUENCES (other artists) and why?
Giorgio Morandi is a big one, in a way my restrained pallet partially came from there, and my playing with composition, sense of balance and economy of it…it’s like watching a foreign movie sometimes too…there are so many quiet things in there…he takes away everything that is superfluous and only leaving the essence.
The other artist I really love is Sean Scully. I love that he uses the same elements that have been used for hundreds of years, you know, like Mondrian, he is using rectangles and paint. He is a contemporary artist, at the top of his game, respected, relevant today and yet he only uses rectangles, colour and paint. He uses these shapes that have been used for ever and orchestrates them in a way that is still fresh, authentic and contemporary. It makes you realise that not every song has been written; not every painting has been painted. There is still a potential to create something relevant with these age old elements.
So….. Sean Scully….I also love Cy Twombly, his inventiveness….Robert Rauschenberg….
What appeals to me about all these people is their instinctiveness and a certain amount of trust that holds me in awe, more so than someone who can draw like say, Picasso. The fact that they can orchestrate and make these things sing with such a sure hand….It seems to come from nowhere…but you don’t know, right, you don’t know!
That is not to say I don’t respond to realist work, I do. I just don’t reference it in my own practice. There are also artists I know who I find evocative because of their compulsion to create, a primal need to do it.
And at the end of the day someone who does a landscape is thinking a landscape, and that is the architecture that makes sense to them, he is thinking from his starting point. My belief is that, I start these things, painting, as if I am doing a faithful reproduction. And then I can’t help but vary it. If I started trying to do a variation from the start it often winds up being a poor pastiche of what I am trying to paint.
[pointing to paintings aligned along the wall] you look at those and you think, “okay, that is what I want to get at”. What you have forgotten is, “what was I thinking before I started that picture, before it existed? What frame of mind was I in? What made it good?” Because, at a certain point, your mind told you to mix that colour and brush that across it, right?
Now this time, your mind is going: “let’s copy that colour, and copy that brush stroke”, you know….
It’s really about finding that “proper” creative process. See, these two landscapes here, they are quite painterly. I don’t know how I did them. I really don’t.
AP: where these two painted towards the end of this series?
yes, part of a show I did in 2005.
I started by doing seascapes then, some bush landscapes around here, and then I started doing images looking down the water and suddenly houses and roof top started to come into it. And then roads started coming into it. And I guess, eventually the hard edge shapes started to excite me as a building block in a painting.
These are quite hard lines, you know, so I think it’s a nice offset for the very organic way I handle the brush. What I am always trying to find, is not a beautifully harmonious painting, but trying to create a conflict intentionally and then trying to resolve it. Here I have some very controlled lines, but at the same time applying paint in organic areas. So it can be a challenge to make it work in these conditions. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.
AP: you are using masking tape to draw?
I use masking tape, yes. That’s another interesting aspect of it for me. I am getting away from just painting when I am creating an artwork. I can spend a night knowing exactly what
I’m doing because I am cutting these things up and I am putting them down. In my head I know that I am painting over it. I am not challenging myself with the brush but I am doing the artwork. It is a mechanical process that allows you to….it takes enough of your attention away to allow you to thing and plan how this is going. You can’t do it because you are not ready to paint but you are already imagining the paint going on. So that is breathing time.
…another way to do this is, is to talk on the telephone with someone while you are painting, and being distracted enough that somehow you start automatically. It is finding that space in your mind, whatever it takes to access it, to allow you to be instinctive.
AP: it is part of the process, working through these days, when you know “IT” is not here, it’s not working so you still turn up and work on mundane things in the studio …I have stopped stressing about this state myself….except when I have a deadline!
Deadlines can do it for you actually! [both laugh]
Well, we are coming towards the end of this conversation ….
My next question was going to be WHAT WILL BE YOUR NEXT PROJECT? But it seems your current project is still pretty much taking all your attention…but what it is that maybe you see after that?
I don’t really have a plan beyond this, because I sort of expect this to grow…I don’t know where it will go…I just know that evolution IS the object.
I think that when the body of work is finished, finally having these work together and putting it out there so that they have actually had a public life is generally impetuous enough to make a departure. But I think it depends on where this work ends up as to where you go next. So really I preconceive as little as possible.
AP: If I may ask, you mentioned your father and how you grew up in your father’s factory, do you think the start of this body of work coincided with the time of his passing or there is really no connection?
…I am trying to think…it is never a literal thing…but emotionally, it is possible. As you can understand, it is a really powerful moment, and I had a lot to do with him at that time, I have got a long recorded conversation with him days before he died, so a lot arouse out of all of that…I had not really thought about it but…
AP: it was just a thought that occurred to me because you mentioned that the body being out there would be a good time to “make a departure”, so it is almost like it would be time to turn the page, both on the area that you are depicting, but also the personal history…
Well like I said I don’t really run with a narrative, you know, you are a gatherer of influences and the more you try to identify them the further you get away from them and the magic that it can weave on you…but certainly, me mentioning it to you, at this time, and even mentioning to you that he had passed away …. That was about …..six years ago….. and about the time that I started working on these sort of images….
Now, can I say I consciously know I was doing it? No. But am I reminded of him when I do it? Yes. It is absolutely a valid point. It is about building on life experience that you need to use.
In all the works I have produced over the year, you see a lineage, definitely, but it is becoming more individual, as I go, but again I am not sure I’m not straying, like here (pointing to a particular painting on the side)
AP: but that, you’ll know once you have them all…and seen them all…then it will make sense.
Yes, and I hope it goes somewhere different…but not too different; I want to be able to hang them together….
It is also important that works are not overly instantly impressive like a pop song, you know, I like to think that things will reveal themselves to you slowly, over time.
I go to a lot of galleries and ARI like Gallery 49 or MOP and there is a lot of minimalist, non-objective painters and I have become friends with some of them. My work is nothing like this but what inspires me, apart from the fact that I love their work, is that what they are trying to do is create that energy, that presence in a work, with as little as possible.
That is quite an exciting notion to me. I can’t do that but it does make me be more economical with what I do…
I remember once going to Watters Gallery and one of my favorite shows was Tony Tuckson. And he did these paintings on newspaper, right, and they were fantastic. And I was walking around with Frank and he was telling me about the whole process and what they had to do to actually make them exhibitable. And as he was telling me, another very prominent artist was walking around the show, and he was looking at the works, and he was shaking his head and saying “god I really have to simplify things” so you see, there is always someone there [pointing up], always someone who makes you question yourself a bit.
So I look at that sort of work and…it constantly reminds you that stuff that you like is often ungainly, ridiculously simple, but has that melody, or that tune, or that hook in it that you can’t explain but that makes you fall in love with it.
So with these non-objective artists, what some of them have done is virtually let go of technique all together. I haven’t done that, but I certainly disregard technique: to me it almost like a crutch that people use to substantiate what they do.
We are coming to the end of our conversation so I have one last question for you. It is a pretty wide question that you can take anywhere…
IN CONCLUSION, WHY THE LANDSCAPE?
Why the landscape….mmm….it is a wide ranging question, isn’t it…
it’s not figurative and it is not abstract because I need a starting point that has some figurativeness. It gives me the elements and shapes that I can compose into a painting and I can choose whatever I need to make it work. It gives me the options of creating either a natural direct light that exist or a different expression of light.
…. I don’t think it is a choice for me. When you drive down the road, you know…..you can have a car mechanic and an artist walking down the same road and they’ll see two entirely different things… you are looking at the light on the side of the building and he is seeing a car with a broken headlight.
As an artist you manifest what your abilities are subconsciously […], tinted with what colours seem to be developing as your visual language, a raw instinct, informed maybe by what you have been exposed to as a young person along the way, that is a combination of all those things…
Glenn Locklee leaves and works in Sydney and has received me in his her home studio in for our conversation, in January 2014.
Winner of the St George art prize and the Camden Art Prize, he has also been finalist in several art prizes including, Mosman art prize, Waverley art prize, Kogarah Art prize, Fisher Ghost art Prize and His blog and website is http://glennlocklee.blogspot.com.au/