Following their recent exhibition FORWARD: Addressing Current Ideas in Contemporary Painting at Sunny Banks Mills in West Yorkshire, Paul Bramley and Jenny Eden talk to the painter Terry Greene about issues relating to their practice and contemporary abstract painting in the broader spectrum.
Terry Greene: What is it that connects you as painters – apart from exhibiting together within the space – i.e. stylistically and in terms of intention?
Jenny Eden: As contemporary painters, Paul and I have both been involved in thinking about surface content within and beyond the canvas. We are also linked by the fact that we consider arbitrary mark-making alongside explorations of colour, structure and technique in our work.
Paul Bramley: Yes, I would agree. But I also think there is a digital consciousness for both of us in the way we use seemingly regular forms as they might appear on screen, which are painted or manipulated using the medium of painting and the possibilities open to us.
JE: In our latest show, FORWARD, Paul and I exhibited recent work in a disused mill space where our paintings seemed to complement, respond to and reference aspects of the building. We also wanted to present ourselves as painters who are keen to contribute to the evolution of contemporary abstract painting with a progressive attitude to this activity and the cause.
TG: Is contemporary abstract painting different to previous incarnations. And if so, how are today’s artists breathing new life into the genre?
PB: There are a number of modern schools within abstract painting, Zombie Formalism and Process Painting for example. The big shift has occurred with work that deals with the infiltration of the digital screen thus separating painting from its traditional foundations and incorporating computer based techniques. Contemporary Process Painting continues to act as a guarantee of the artist’s physical presence in front of the canvas whilst responding to concerns of the virtual age. A lot of work is being done to redefine the notion of the medium of contemporary abstract painting which now exists within an extended field.
JE: I would add that contemporary abstract painting is clearly underpinned by a number of post-modern concerns. I am grateful to those who have paved the way to this point in painting. We are now responsible for dealing with diversification and expansion. We need to think about what could be there, what is implied and what could come next. There is a constant desire for progression and accumulation and something about this is referenced in the work of abstract painters today.
TG: Is making the process of creation visible an important factor for you both?
PB: Yes, very much so. The process of creation allows the viewer to see the history of the painting and shows the human element which guards against perfected digital imagery. I always think there is an element of ‘figuring out’ involved on the part of the viewer and making the process of creation visible acts as a point of departure.
JE: I feel the same, to a degree, although I am also interested in the process being ambiguous, almost like a bit of a trick or illusion. I enjoy the visual result of layering colour, marks, mistakes, and actions, made in frustration, anger or play.
TG: It’s said that the material ‘realness’ of abstract paintings is an antidote to a screen-based world. Would you go along with this? Does the computer play any role at any stage in your making ‘process’?
PB: My paintings create an intimate material relationship between the artist and the viewer. Whilst there is clear digital consciousness in my mark making styles, the computer has, to date, played no role whatsoever in the construction of my work.
JE: Likewise, I feel there is strong awareness of digital imagery in my work, and there could also be references made to design and print through my use of symmetrical, geometric and organised structures. Having said that, the computer plays no actual part in my work. I particularly enjoy the lack of barrier between the viewer and the surface of the painting and think it is fair to say that, as painters, both Paul and I both appreciate studio time away from a screen based world.
TG: For many painters (and perhaps this is especially true for those working with abstraction and the non-objective) it’s the journey which is the focus far more than the results. Is that something you both identify with?
PB: I think process and journey are linked. The journey is the process for me, which incorporates various stages and decisions. Some question whether a painting is ever finished. My work seems to have a logical end in that the Gestalt is somehow completed and painting is abandoned and accepted. The results are of utmost importance and I instinctively know whether the marks I have made have been successful or not.
JE: I guess I partially identify with that. But I am very concerned with the results and the final painting. I am keen to be true to the journey and fairly transparent, honest to a degree. Through the journey, I want to establish a relationship with the painting. I feel that I am nudging it along to a resolution, dealing with issues to come to some form of an agreement with this ‘thing’. The journey is not the focus for me, but a truly essential element.
TG: I use layering within my strategy – the combination of unpredicted occurrences that happen by chance and at times a highly structured mechanistic procedure. How important are these elements to you – especially the role of chance?
PB: Layering is important for me. The material properties of abstract painting interest me greatly. I paint over thick impasto lines squeezed directly from the tube, for example. This creates bold surface physicality and the impression that there is a different painting going on beneath the surface of the visible work. I also use a lot of pattern repeats which create the impression that the painting is not stationary and that the images are in motion. For me, being alive to the role of accident and chance within the process of painting keeps the work fresh and often helps to break up the stagnation of the picture plane.
JE: There is something about the notion of pure chance as the sole basis of a painting that irritates me. I enjoy taking chances but I need to feel like I am somehow involved in orchestrating what’s going on. I want to find a way to gain an amalgamation of immediacy and control.
TG: I feel it is crucial that there is a physical encounter between the viewer and the work. Structure, process and materiality are the dominant devices I use to achieve this. How do you feel about this and what are the dominant devices you use?
PB: If there is no physical encounter between the viewer and the work, the work is overlooked (which maybe the fault of the artist or the viewer). My work is disjointed and full of competing elements and I put a lot of paint onto the surface of my paintings. I have a bit of a paint fetish! From a distance or on a screen, many say my work looks digital. However this is not so as up close the work is very physical and tactile. I hope to create work that is not instantly digestible and requires an extended thought and viewing process.
JE: Yes, I am excited by the physical encounter. When people really understand some of what I am doing in my painting there is an absolute sense of achievement. My dominant devices would include the dichotomy between accuracy and irregularity; I think about there being somewhere for the viewer to rest. Another device is colour, which I mix to a point of indecipherability, to engender uncertainty. Yes, process is also vital. The stages of my work are often difficult to pinpoint and this can provoke a reaction in the viewer and encourages them to step into the painting as a way of making sense of it.
TG: Finally, what’s next for you both?
PB: I am just beginning an MA in Creative Practice at Leeds College of Art and I have a group show in London in February 2016. As part of my next body of work I have in mind to produce a series of polygonal and even 3D canvases, upon which mark making will still be of upmost importance. I really want to delve further into the nature of gestural and arbitrary mark-making and see where that leads me.
JE: I too am beginning an MA, but for me it is in Fine Art at Manchester School of Art. I want to develop deeper theoretical understanding of my work and spend more time painting than ever before. I also have a show coming up at the Portico Library and Gallery in Manchester through November.
Paul Bramley is an artist based in York. His degree and further studies in Integrative Psychology inform his practice, allowing him to explore a number of philosophical, psychological and political concepts through the medium of abstract painting.
Jenny Eden is an artist based in Manchester. Her postgraduate study in Art Psychotherapy has generated an awareness of theoretical and psychoanalytical discussion which finds parallels in certain aspects of her work.
Terry Greene is a painter living and working in West Yorkshire. His work has been seen in a number of recent exhibitions, including: Lines For Agnes, St. Marylebone Crypt, London; Carta, dalla Rosa Gallery, London; Writhe & Jerk , Transition Gallery, London. Greene authors the online Blog: ‘Just another painter’.
Image: FORWARD: Addressing Current Ideas in Contemporary Painting, Press Release, 2015.
Image: Jenny Eden, This is for you, 2015. Photographer: Jenny Eden. Image courtesy the artist.
Image: Paul Bramley, No time for disappearing down rabbit holes, 2015. Photographer: Jenny Eden. Image courtesy the artist.