Practitioners Statement – Toby Lattimore
MA Fine Art - University of Hertfordshire
The recording of nature has been a key element in my work as it has evolved during my MA. Initially I shot short films on walks in the country, playing with perspective and the angel of the camera. I was looking for an image that was immersive and, as if to emphasis this, I found a point of view that was unusual, as if seen from an animal’s perspective, low down, either as a predator hunting or the prey hiding.
This brought up an emphasis on foreground that I had not expected and created a series of classic cinematic references; foreground, mid-ground and background levels in the actual composition of the work. There was also a tension for the viewer as they became the person in the field. This relationship for the viewer would change as I developed the work, which I talk about later.
I produced three largish oil paintings (150cmx100cm) after studying the stills from the short film. The first was true to the original printout and I questioned how I should handle the aspect of realism. I looked to other artists such as Peter Doig to understand the genesis of the source material for a landscape painting and that it can create a fantastical landscape.
The film also emphasised for me an effect that ordinary still cameras tending to null and void. The white balance levels of the film camera, a small digital handheld, fluctuated and as I examined the stills I noticed that areas were ablaze and this changed the physical manifestation of the plants within the fields. I became fascinated by this and used it as a key element in the following paintings.
The second and third painting were more concerned with how this light effected the flora of the scene and created brightly lit landscapes of colour within the composition. But I was incorporating the composition of the film still, including the sky and land and where they connected. Three levels that actually were struggling against each other as I decided to embolden the colours, moving away from photorealism and more towards abstraction. These sections that were concerned with the overexposure became morphed by the light, changing shape and forming abstracted regions. This happened more so in the central plane of the image.
At points on the print out of the landscape, that I was working from, I could see a halo of yellow around the plants and clouds and decided that I should try and emphasis these. I was unsure if they were a result of just the film’s overexposure or that and a combination of the relatively poor quality printout I was working from. I realised though that I was viewing this landscape through a number of filters, or lenses, which was contributing to making the source material in its own right something quite removed from the reality of the original view. I embraced this though as it seemed to engage with my growing interest in, and emphasis of, how the light was being manipulated in the image. By allowing these interpretations, or what you might call translations, of the original image I felt I was expanding my understanding of the presence of the light in that field which I had filmed in early winter and so on some level allowed me to engage with an investigation that I felt could come to fruition through my painting.
I finished these paintings and moved to a separate set of photographs, that I had been sent, which showed a food plane. These were taken with the sun blazing down on the flooded land and I found the light in the images interesting. Yet, I had not taken these myself and they were not film stills resulting in there more traditional composition. The yellow orange light of the sun fascinated me and I decided that I would work larger and try to replicate one of the original landscape panorama format that some of the photographs had been taken in. This was because this relationship to the film process was part of the dialogue of the content of my work. The painting I put together was 350cmx100cm.
I stood back from this original image and did not really like what I saw. It was too conventional, the way the original photographs were taken were too framed and less about the experience of being there. But still the sun light was strong and I decided, looking back at my first paintings, that I could use a halo effect but potentially in a more abstracting way. I took a bold orange, a tone I could see in some of the glowing edges of the land, and outline every single object. This flattened the work into an amorphous sequence of orange shapes.
This ended up being cut into three separate paintings as I decided to overlay some of the other photographs from the series to create a foreground which had featured in the previous paintings, a tool I was still interested in exploring. I then added the light halo, a white transparent edge, to the trees that I had also used before, as if to further enhance the study of light in the painting.
Figure 3- One of the Edge Diffraction paintings – Oil on board 100cm x 50cm
In the end I was still dissatisfied with these paintings as they seemed too busy. I wanted to focus down on the aspects of the light and edge and so decided to take out the plants from the original field film stills and began to sketch them separately. This prompted me to consider how I could apply the light and the white, which had originally been the high white balance levels in the film, became the thinned white oil paint that I applied to these morphing shapes. These were now the sole focus for a series of paintings I called the Edge Diffraction paintings. By adding layers of transparent white I was creating my own light halos around the plants and as if a side effect of this they shifted in and out of a plane that vibrated with life. It felt as if I had discovered a three-dimensional quality that had been lacking in the previous paintings. They felt purer, more minimal and abstracted as a result of my research.
The manipulation of my original landscapes had been inspired by the artist Peter Doig. His fantastical landscapes, although set in reality, had an edgy mystery about them. The light was exaggerated and the technique intense. I looked further into this and found that it was Doig’s use of a range of photographic media in his work that really interested me. In May 2015 Martin Gayford interviewed Doig who talked candidly about this and went on to say:
"…to me it's more interesting when it's not about simply copying, or making photorealism. You see so many people using the photographic world in painting, and I would say that 90 percent of the time it's so mundane. How do you transcend that?"
GAYFORD, M. (2015) Memory Traces, Apollo Art Magazine, New York
Doig is saying here that the process of using a photographic image in your work is something of a trap, which was something I needed to think carefully about. The ease of simply copying an image can become mundane, potentially predictable. The straight copy of a photo would replicate the photograph and what does this achieve? He's not ruling every such image as mundane more that there is a higher chance of it being so if you do a straight copy. I took this on board and felt it was an important aspect of what I wanted to achieve in my paintings. This detachment from the exactness of the original image either through memory or reworking the image through other processes has created what could be called an 'imaginary place' because some of the elements of the work are unrealistic. So my use of lenses i.e. the camera, printing process and then the paint itself seem to fit this ideal.
Another artist who made me engage with this dialogue of how to use photographic media in my work was George Shaw. Tom Morton in issue 67 of Freeze Magazine in 2002 called George Shaw's paintings "remembered landscapes". Morton describes a gritty environment in which Shaw grew up and how the artist had returned to the haunts of his youth to take photographs during his MA, at the Royal College of Art, in London. These shots became the solid foundation for a series of paintings that were stark in their photorealism, the landscapes grim suburban visas. Much like my original film of the fields had for me.
What was apparent with Shaw’s chosen subject matter is that the photographs he takes, in the first instance, are designed to be used for his paintings. They are images which you wouldn't ordinarily photograph. These locations are off the beaten track places that are functional, or areas of the town in which you might not linger. They have a personal narrative with I would begin to question in my own work.
Shaw’s current exhibition at the National Gallery – My Back to Nature in which he depicts a series of forest landscapes were particularly inspiring for me but in a different way; the way he handles the paint. His use of line and form to create vertical vistas resonated in my work and I was interested in his reduction of colour and increasing presence of patches of darkness in the design. He was moving away from his earlier pure photorealism to something more abstract, a process I was very interested in my own work.
In an interview in 2013 shot at Galleri Andersson/Sandström in Umeå, Sweden Ian McKeever talks about his process of painting.
He produces large abstract paintings that show a series of layers, with an emphasis on space and form. He’s interested in a “loose amorphous space” that has no exactness but “pulses”. I have begun to recognise this in my Edge Diffraction Paintings and McKeever goes on to explain that he is trying to create a feeling for each painting giving it an identity.
One of the systems that he uses is to pour the paint onto the large unprepared canvas surface and he then builds up the layers. Although I do not pour, the layers are important for me and have taken on a transparent value like McKeever’s. I apply them one after the other once the paint has dried.
For McKeever the paintings that he believes work well are the ones which try to deal with what it is to be human. He states that too many paintings are about the paint but that there should be more of the painter within the work. He says that he seeks the “The whole philosophy of self” when he paints and when he looks at other people’s work, that “you are actually trying to declare yourself as a human being and let it manifest itself through the form of painting.”
I find this an interesting approach to painting and one I want to try and incorporate into what I do, as yet I am unsure if this is possible. My work takes from the fake, the artificial recording and the presence of light. Where in this do I exist?
One thing is for sure as I move forward with my research, after I complete my MA, is that I must question my physical relationship to the actual paint and its application. What do I want to express through the painting process? Should it be more present? Or should the picture be more present and the paint merely a device to create the dominant image? What is the physicality of the paint on the actual canvas?
As I mentioned previously the viewer relationship with the painting has changed. This is something I am interested in playing with. In the first instance I had wanted to manipulate the viewer into a position of place potentially that of the prey cowering in front of the foreground or being in awe of its size. But now with the Edge Diffraction paintings and the moving abstracting forms they present the viewer is unsure of their location. We can see a landscape but it’s position or surrounding is uncertain more, the objects move, their edges transitional.
With the halos, around features such as flora, that have always featured in my recent paintings I have been fascinated by light but potentially never questioned where this might exist, the space it occupies. Maybe this development through abstracting and sketching the flora of the scene will result in a better understand of this region, which not only the viewer occupies, but the artist as well. In that way more of myself as McKeever explains can be transferred into the work, something less recognisable and more gestural, an extension of my being.
I was also determined to try and apply some of this process to the orange flood plain paintings. Their bright and jarring colours were almost too much to process and in some way repelled the viewer. Yet, sections of them work in isolation and I began to explore this. I have begun and will continue to paint sections of these landscapes, cut outs, blown up and realised in a range of media. These have become abstracted regions of these larger paints and have a new more direct language. One of the reasons for this is that there is a background where as in the Edge Diffraction paintings the is none other than the white paint.
The horizon has also been removed from these abstracted forms, something that is universally recognisable, a mark that was stopping the work from moving more into abstracted plains.
I feel the relationship between the Edge Different and Orange Abstracts will create an interesting dialogue, one potentially feeding into the other. I also intend to look at the transitional state of the background and how it may actually become totally obscured in the orange paintings.
The handling of the paint will also be of vital importance, potentially affected by the scale of the work. I plan to work on larger canvases which will question the type of brush and mark.
The presence of the landscape also has a role to play in my mind, even if the horizon has been removed. This was the original intention of the work, to represent a landscape and have the viewer experience it. I have to question how important it is. Currently I believe that it is vital for how the paintings are perceived and want to make sure that it remains. How I do this I’m unsure because the orange landscape close ups look far removed from this context. This is one of the problems for me. How can these retain a sense of their origin and not simply become a random collection of abstract shapes?
One of the ways I can see this working is by making sure I work directly from my source imagery rather than begin to create random abstract elements. Without even realising it these reduced forms still retain the heritage of the landscape and it is through this that they maintain a dialogue with the land of their conception.
For this reason, photography will remain an important element of my practice, probably primarily film. These will form part of a growing archive that I’m compiling online. The walks that I take the photographs on will also be an important initial stage to begin a series of works. The tones, shapes and setting all play some part in the compositions even when the images become abstracted. I want to be open to potential sources and may well start collecting general media photographs and put them through a process of abstraction of reprinting and be in a continuing state of collecting material rather than just restricting it to walks.
But is this important? Is the original, more complex, image integral? I feel at the moment it is but as these paintings grow and the process evolves does the landscape of my mind become more important? Does the presence of my existence become more evident and does it, as Ian McKeever stated, “manifest itself through the form of painting”.
2825 word count
GAYFORD, M. (2015) Memory Traces, Apollo Art Magazine, New York
MORTON, T. (2002) If... Frieze Magazine Issue 67, [Online] http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/if/
SHAW, G (2016) My Back to Nature, Exhibition at National Gallery, UK, London
MCKEEVER, I (2014) Interview shot at Galleri Andersson/Sandström in Umeå, Sweden