A couple of days ago, I had a little showing of new works in my temporary studio digs in New Cross. It was quite unlike anything I've ever done before, despite it being a pretty common thing to do in the art world: have a studio showing of new works.
I was slightly out of my comfort zone, because I was showing my #newsideproject works and portraits of listeners - paintings and drawings - after a long period of doing performance and installation works.
The show was a juxtaposition (sorry, but it's the best word, despite its art school connotations. - Ed.) of dialogue and gesture, humanity and technology, text and figure, monochrome and titian-inspired colour.
There's something quite different about the gestation of paintings and drawings, and the process of inviting people, pricing the works and hanging them that is well-known, but very drawn out. I realised that I quite like the instant gratification that happens with performance and installation works.
Either people get it or they don't.
By the same token, this was the enjoyable part about painting again - there is a slowness to the work and people observe the paintings in the same way that I observe the people in them: carefully, detached, objectively and with interest. Which is why they needed to be paintings, rather than photographs or videos or even a performance work.
As many of you know I have a funny relationship with painting, which is why this series of works has taken so long to appear.
I have been drawing, observing and photographing people in the act of listening (especially at experimental music gigs - an excellent control space) for ages - interested in what listening looks like from the outside.
And because they were going to be obviously figurative and portait-like, I guessed that the works would probably be paintings, but given my awkward history with painting, I procrastinated like you wouldn't believe. I tried to make them into photographs (inspired by Alfredo Jaar's portraits of revolutionaries), drawings, possibly videos.
Nope. Time and time again, they remained as paintings.
So, finally I relented, thanks to the hospitality of David Turley and Caitlin Yardly and their studio. I spent a month with oils and brush, really enjoying the process in the mean time.
And it became apparent that I was right about the choice to paint them. I like these portraits. They're exactly what I wanted them to be - gestures in slippy, slidy material, with frayed edges.
Yes, they're images of people listening, but they also look like people doing loads of other things. Listening is not a codified gesture. It's not something we're used to 'looking at'. We know what it feels like and makes assumptions based on context, but it's not a knowable action.
An antithesis to the human, painterly, coloured portraits are the Siri conversations I've been playing around with for a while - the #newsideproject works.
These are about the non-human listening - listening as algorithm. By saying well-known hip-hop lyrics to Siri (the Apple-acquired voice-activiated assistant on the iPhone 4S and above), I have ended up with these bizarre 'conversations' between art/poetry/pop-culture statements, and an approximation of a response.
There is no understanding, no meaning to the dialogue and they're amusing. Especially if you have an appreciation for hip-hop lyrics.
These works are drawings - hand-drawn text (white on black again) and paintstaking replication of the Siri background. And the action behind the drawings is so much fun. I end up in tears of laughter having these 'discussions' with the iphone app. I also have developed an even deeper love of hip-hop, having done them.
Hip-hop is poetry. It is so beautifully lyrical and narrative and filled to the brim with words and meaning and entendre. It's little wonder that Rap Genius became a site, as a way to really understand the messages behind the code and colloquialisms.
There is already quite a range of these works, but they're still going. I have a whole playlist of songs to do and am already taking 'requests' for the works (in art terms, this would be a commission, in case you're wondering).
They're fun and flippant and meaningful but not too bogged down in earnestness and steep history. Which is why for the studio show, they were the perfect partner to the paintings.
It was also really nice to sell some of the works. Apart from my online sales, I haven't had prices on works in a long time and it was a new experience in going back to some old-fashioned ideas about art being in people's homes (or offices or whatever). The seeming antithesis to the experience, I have enjoyed making things that people would like to own - lengthening the experience to years' worth.
Rather than a 3-hour durational performance that people might pay £5 for (or not), or a small slice of a conceptual piece, these works are 25-year durational works that sit and brew in people's homes - they probably ignore them for days at a time and then finally notice them for a whole 6 minutes. Again and again and again.
I like that idea.