"At Stanley Hayter's New York atelier, there was something called a compound pendulum, a paint can suspend from two strings, which when let go made patterns on whatever material was beneath it. Like Hayter, Marcel Duchamp made use of a can of paint on a string, while Max Ernst had punched holes in a bucket of paint and swung it over a canvas laid flat on the floor. (Ernst always claimed that Pollock had stolen the idea from him)." (Evelyn Toynton, Jackson Pollock, 2012).
As the new term began, I was set the task of creating my own topic, one that was broad enough to last 10 weeks, but was also succinct enough to lead me in a certain direction in one or two medias. In the first lecture back, I was introduced to the work of Jackson Pollock, the early twentieth century drip painter. Whilst I was vaguely aware of Pollock's work, I barely knew of its significance. Along with Pollock's work, Alan Kaprow's interpretation of Pollock's work was also briefly introduced. In his 1958 essay 'The Legacy of Jackson Pollock', Kaprow expressed that Pollock's paintings "ceased to become paintings and became environments," that they "continued out into the room" and had "moved so far out that the canvas [was] no longer a reference point." Kaprow felt, however, that Pollock never left the four corners of the canvas, he remained within the rectangular barriers. This whole premise of going past the four corners of the canvas stuck in my head following the lecture, and consequently became the whole premise behind my topic. I wanted my work to penetrate the literal barrier between the canvas and the floor/wall, to visually go beyond this in some way, although I did not want this to express a clichéd 'deeper meaning'. As Greenberg expressed, the drip paintings were not illusionary, they were simply marks on canvas, woven patterns of paint. In that sense they were depthless. Through extensive research and further reading, I discovered a technique of drip painting that seemed too enticing to ignore.
Whilst Pollock's technique involved using found objects to create a (chaotic yet somewhat ordered) mess of lines and splashes, a method involving a pendulum of paint suspended above a piece of paper appeared as though it would transcend the rectangular canvas barrier as I wanted, so I set about creating this machine. Initially, I attempted to use a 5 litre bucket with a hole drilled into the base as my pendulum. I faced problems with this idea however. The bucket had a small bump on the base which meant the paint would not flow through consistently. To try and fix this, I attempted to expand the hole in the base, but accidentally cracked it, rendering it useless. This early failure not only showed me that I was going to have a problem in trying to get the paint to flow consistently, but also that I was going to need a lot of paint.
After a visit to B&Q, I fashioned a pendulum from a 750ml Evian water bottle. I selected this specific brand, not for any personal reason, but because the lid of the bottle formed together into a small hole. This small hole would allow me to constantly drip paint. Having solved this problem, I then looked to solve the consistency issue. At B&Q, I chose Red and white Matte House paint. Red was a central colour to a number of Pollock's paintings and, for me, it was the strongest colour visually to use. In the majority of my paintings, the red colour makes the image more striking and beautiful at the same time. My decision in choosing Matte paint as opposed to Gloss paint meant the paint was relatively thick. This meant it did not flow and dripped instead. Whilst this may have been desirable in creating a 'drip painting', I wanted a paint that was constantly flowing. To achieve this, I added a small amount of water to the paint and mixed it together. When the paint fell from the paint brush constantly, I tipped it into the water bottle, held it to the right or left, undid the cap and let the painting fall. As the pendulum swung right to left (or vice versa), it would leave lines that, in my opinion, often resembled diagrams showing the orbit of planets. Like Pollock's paintings, the paintings that I created showed a sort of ordered chaos. Similarly like Pollock, I would also make decisions on how I wanted the painting to look based on the last move of the pendulum. I would only interfere with the pendulum when I felt necessary, although it was usually when the bottle was beginning to return to it's neutral state, or if there was an area of the page I felt was too blank.
Initially, I had problems getting the mixture between paint and water correct, so in some paintings the paint was extremely thick and did not fall our constantly. In others, the paint was runny and left splash marks and/or distorted & crumpled the page when it dried. Eventually, I was able to get the mixture between paint and water correct and created some stunning pieces. These can be seen below:
Whilst my work had centred on this premise of going beyond the four corners of the canvas, it was also focussed on energy. As Pollock himself said "the modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio in the old forms of the renaissance or of any other past culture." In a culture focussed on the speed and power of technology, but also on the fear of terrorism, it is impossible to represent the modern day in the old forms of the renaissance. For me, this style of painting that I had embarked on represented a kind of energy. The paint flows, as if forever, never ending, always continuing. I wanted to harness this idea and incorporate it into my central premise. I knew that I wanted to move from painting to sculpture/installation, but was not sure how to make this leap. In a way, the pendulum I had crafted was already an installation in itself. Following some talks with tutors, I came across a machine called a 'three pendulum harmonograph'. A harmonograph acts just like a spirograph but, instead, uses three arms to create these impossible shapes. These shapes resembled the paintings that I had created and so I wanted to experiment with this machine. In order to do this, I had to build one.
Building the harmonograph was not easy. In many instances, I had to cut corners, breaking away from the official instructions and guidelines to suit my budget. In my opinion, it was this decision to cut corners that led to the machine's failure. The harmonograph was made up of a table with three holes cut through. In these holes sits three arms, two lateral and one rotary. The rotary arm span using a gimbal - a metal washer. The others had screws perturbing from them which rested on two metal pieces. To save time, I used wood blocks instead of metal pieces and I feel this was part of my downfall. I also used dowels that were slightly smaller than instructed. This meant they weren't as strong and could not fully support the load of the weights. When the machine was finally build, I found that the table, made using MDF board, was not sturdy enough and wobbled way too much. This ultimately stifled the entire machine, meaning it would not work. What's more, the pen sat too strongly on the paper and, instead of gliding on the surface, dug into it and only moved with jolts. This piece was ultimately a failure, but it taught me to pay close attention to instructions. Below are photos from the build:
Like Pollock, the size and scale of my work began to increase. I found that the pieces that were larger were much more powerful than the smaller paintings. They portrayed the energy and movement that I desired. These larger pieces also left some interesting marks on the plastic sheet I had placed under the paper, which can be seen in the photo below.
Moving from the painting, I began to consider sculpture and installations. I initially looked at the work of Conrad Shawcross, Adrian Pritchard and Sarah Sze. I was fascinated both with the energy of Shawcross's work, but also with the scale of Sze's work. I decided that, like Sze, I would begin to move my paintings out into the room by creating installations. I considered using clay but upon purchasing it, found it difficult to mould into the styles I wanted. I decided, instead, to create chicken wire net that hung from the ceiling. From this, fishing wire would hang down, holding a canvas, surrounded by red string. This installation would represent the paint that fell both on the paper and on the plastic sheet, and was influenced by Sze. In my head, this string would curve round in front of the canvas perfectly, falling to the floor and making a perfect circular shape. In reality, I had a lot of problems with getting the string to stay in the positions in the air that I desired and, consequently, had to abandon the whole idea. I attempted to fix this by placing a wood board on the floor and connecting the string to it. This, however, did not work as well as I had hoped. In response, I decided to create an installation where string was secured tightly to the floor, and then red string wrapped round the pattern to represent the paint. This did work to some extent, although not as well as I had hoped. I learned from both these failures that often the ideas I have can be more difficult to create. I still feel, however, that it would be possible to make both of these machines. Below are pictures of these installations.
Next term, I'm hoping to start making drawing machines using motors ands other forms of technology. Following a talk with one of the tutors, I have had the idea to use a GPS tracker to create paintings on maps similar to that of the drip paintings shown above. At the moment in time, I'm still considering some other ideas, although I am fixed on moving this drip painting to a digital form, whether that be as a machine or as a a computer image.