Titles Get In The Way

You have a piece of art, be it a painting, a video screen or a piece of free-standing sculpture. And this piece of art elicits a certain response in the viewer. But as the artist or creator of this artwork, you have to give it a name. And the name you choose to give it elicits a different response. Or explains away too much.

And so here’s a viewer who’s seen an artwork and now they’ve got two ideas in their head about the same piece. This is where the whole notion of ‘Untitled’ came into the world. Not wanting to add anything to the artwork by having a title get in the way, artists started naming their work ‘Untitled’. But to my mind there are now so many ‘Untitled’ artworks knocking around that the word has just become part of the art establishment and /or lost its usefulness. In any open-submission art competition nowadays, far too many of the entries are called ‘Untitled’.

At one stage, I was giving works nonsensical titles, such as calling a painting of a measuring tape ‘Window’. But that kind of thing just makes too much of the title. The title of the work then becomes more important than the work itself.

And so we come to numbers

The numbers used can’t mean anything however. On the day that you make the great decision to use numbers as titles there’s no point in calling the first painting Number One and the second painting Number Two. That’s just logical and easy to work out.

The whole point of numbers as titles is that they should be arbitrary and pointless because titles are pointless and have nothing to do with visual art. 726 I think makes for a good title. No special reason. Just came up with the number. It shouldn’t matter if ‘726′ was a painting of a pope screaming or of dogs playing cards. ‘726’ as a title could then easily be ignored. But this is the Art World. It wouldn’t be, would it.

Brave New On-Line World

Ok. I’ll admit it, I’m old-fashioned. I like Art on Walls. Paintings. Drawings. Photographs. Frankly life is way too short to care about Art that does nothing for me. If someone comes up to me and tells me that I should open my mind and give it a chance, let them read their text and go to the performance at 6 p.m. sharp; like I said, Life is too short.

Give me painting any day. Photography is a very close second but it’s the paint…

But in this brave new on-line world of ours, the fact that the painter puts his or her all into the work and it might take weeks or even months to complete would apparently mean nothing. The painting must get photographed for the obligatory social media channels and it is this which is now truly important. (It’s alright when the artist is a Hockney or a Tuymans; the exhibition has been planned before they even put brush to canvas. The up-to-the-minute photograph is not so important. It’s when the artist is young or unrepresented. The photograph/web-site/social-media has become everything).

The Photograph Becomes The Star

And if the artist has no money, the artist themselves often takes the photograph and after all that blood, sweat and tears going into the original painting, it is the photograph of the painting and not the painting itself that becomes the star.

And a rubbish, pixelated, and often badly-cropped photograph of the hard fought-for painting shows up on Instagram and a slightly less pixelated photograph shows up on the web-site and it is by these measures that Joe or Josephine Public judge the work, and often curators, fellow-artists, judges and potential collectors also.

A Chance At The Big Lights

But awful as these things may be, thousands of artists are getting a greater chance to be seen. The cities with an Art Market of Note around the world can probably be counted on two hands. If you lived outside of New York, London or Hong Kong 20 or 30 years ago you might have made a living as an artist, but you have found it very difficult to get a chance at the Big Lights. However especially with the Art world embracing the inter web since the pandemic, everyone now gets a chance.

What’s In A Name (Title)

I did my first ‘Untitled’ painting a few weeks ago. I’m torn between ‘Untitled’ as a naming device. I’ve always considered ‘Untitled’ to be a dog-lazy way of coming up with names for paintings. But by the same token I’ve always felt that the English language (or indeed any language) has nothing whatsoever to do with visual art. I mean why should the name by which a painting is known have anything to do with the actual image itself.

But apparently it does.

Oil painting of Measuring tape on small bit of plywood
Window, 2017, Oil on Birch Ply, 30 cm x 21 cm, 2017

I entered two small paintings of a measuring tape and a clamp into an art competition a few years ago. As a joke, and to give the arty-set something to talk about, I called the painting of the measuring tape (which was quite clearly a picture of a measuring tape) ‘Window’ and called the painting of the clamp (not pictured), ‘Car’. But I wasn’t being profound or thoughtful in any way. I was laughing at them.

And now, while I ponder on the idea of titles, I’m thinking did I only get into that exhibition because the picture of the measuring tape was called ’Window’? Was it necessary for the higher authorities in the Art world to have both picture and words to think about and discuss. Is the image on its own no longer enough?

Well if that’s the case I’m rightly fucked. I was 52 before I managed a painting of something that didn’t look like that particular something (we’ll call it abstract). Is it going to take me another fifty years to get the titles similarly vague and mysterious? It would appear that painting a picture of a dog and calling the painting ‘Dog’ is not acceptable practice.

Abstract without being Abstract

Over the last few years, my work has become more about the paint and shape and colour, rather than about any figurative or literal concerns. More abstract if you will. Initially at least, I never knew how to get there. I knew I could never throw some red paint at a canvas and then work with the resultant shapes. That would just seem empty and hollow.

I had been making paintings based on snapshots taken while on holiday. Always the same size. No people. I like making rules for myself. Takes away the awkward question of what to paint. Or at the very least reduces massively the search for an image. Frankly I don’t care about the image, I just want to paint.

Well I say I don’t care, but I must do really. I mean the South of France is supposed to be lovely but I was never there so it means nothing to me but I was in Italy so I have two paintings based on snapshots taken in Italy. Likewise Chicago might be a great city but I was never there. I was however in Florida and consequently have done four Florida paintings.

A Way In

When I started them, these travel paintings looked more or less like the photos upon which they were based. But over the last year, I would start as usual, basing the painting on the carefully chosen photograph but then quite quickly, often after only one or two colours, I would effectively throw the photograph away and just react to the painting in front of me. The snapshot had got me in and now I was just painting my shapes and colours. But I had needed the snapshot to start me off.

I had found my way to be abstract.

Oil Painting of Stripes of Alizarin Crimson, Greens, Yellow and a Black and White
The Red Car, Oil on Panel, 19.7″ x 23.6″ (50 cm x 60 cm), 2020

The painting above may have ended up as a collection of nicely coloured stripes. But it will always be a painting of the road to the airport to me. The Red Car of the title has already gone (it was too fast. It’s down the road) and the red area in the painting itself is actually the sky. It just happens to look better painted alizarin crimson. (It’s a painting. There are no rules).

Abstract without being abstract.

This Is Me

This is me’ is the name of a somewhat famous song from some musical but to the best of my knowledge it’s not possible to copyright three common words in a given language put together in any particular order so there ya go, ‘This Is Me’ it is.

i had promised myself that I’d do one of these ‘post’ things at least every four weeks but needless to say I’m late. Some day I’ll be late for my own funeral, which will be a pity because I have plans for a very nice tune by Nina Simone to be played at it and I’d like to be there for that bit.

Photo of grumpy looking artist with blue hat, glasses and beard in shed facing directly into camera
Mad Bastard who Paints

But I digress. Wouldn’t be me if I didn’t. This is me. Yes. The whole ‘This is Me’ thing came about when I took one of those ‘selfies’ in my shed while I was painting and I thought to myself ‘Jesus, I look like the old man down the road who paints that the kids on the street might talk about in hushed tones. The mad bastard. Not someone you’d want to meet after dark.

And the thing is, that’s not me at all. Wouldn’t hurt a fly. But I care not for that shaving business and I can often look like a grumpy sullen fucker so that could well be the impression that people get.

Blurry photo of me with bad teeth and a smile taken by my daughter
Me with bad teeth and a smile.

But give me a shave and a haircut, put me out among other people and before you know it you might even get a smile out of me (my daughter took the second shot. Would never have managed a smile on my own).

Judging The Book

You see you can NEVER and SHOULD never judge a book by its cover. If you’re judging the person IN the image; they might and probably will look completely different in the next shot you see of them. If you’re judging the person who CREATED the image, i.e. the artist, one image will never give you the full idea of what they’re all about.

That’s why curators and gallerists want to see at least 5 – 10 images. They’re not going to get a real sense of what the artist is about with anything less. Everyone can fluke that one great gem. It’s coming up with number two, three and four that is the hard part.

Did you ever see an image on one of those general IG accounts like Abstract Art or Figurative Art and you say to yourself ‘oh she’s quite good. I’ll check her out. And lo. It turns out it was only that one painting that was any good. The rest is derivative heft. Occasionally it has to be said the artist is solid and a genuine find, but sometimes they let you down and it turns out that they are just a one hit wonder.

There are more strings to Dolly Parton’s bow than ‘I Will Always Love You’ and Led Zeppelin have more to them than that turgid ditty ’Stairway To Heaven’. Ultimately you should never judge a book by its cover. The ‘cover’ might of course be all there is to said book. But then again. It might not.

Paint and Colour and Shape

Apparently I’m supposed to have some kind of blog going on, what e’er a blog might be in this instance. I don’t know, words I suppose, so that the SEO people can understand what this site is all about. It would appear that computers don’t read images too well and so need words to tell them.

Well it’s about paint of course. What else is there? Paint and colour and shape. That is all ye know and all ye need to know.

Always about the paint.

Wasn’t always quite so obvious of course. I started off a few years ago when I returned to painting doing portraits of strangers based on images taken from mugshots.com. Then I moved closer to home and painted portraits of family members.

But I am now of the opinion that the portraits were just me re-learning how to paint and thus no longer count.

Family Snapshots

And last year, I started drawing and painting domestic objects and now this year I’m making small-ish paintings based on family snapshots, the proviso being that none of the snapshots used can have a person in them. First couple sort of did, but that’s before I sorted out my rules.

20″ X 24″ wooden panel. Check. Horizontal aspect. Check. Family snapshot. Check. No people. Check. After that I don’t care. My few rules mean that I can come up with new images to paint easily enough without having to think too hard. I only want to paint. Like I said, Paint and Colour and Shape. Nothing else matters.

This of course could all be a load of bollox. There might be deep and profound reasons why I paint family snapshots with no people in them. If there is, then be that as it may. Someone else can ponder such things.

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