When the first lockdown happened in early 2020 I decided to take the opportunity to change my work. For years I had been working on figurative art, mainly painting but also sculpture and drawing. More recently I had become drawn to the work of abstract artists, particularly from the New York School and their descendants. Brice Marden and Robert Motherwell had a big effect on my thinking both in terms of their painting, but also their words. In a recent exhibition at the Künstlerhaus Marktoberdorf I'd presented a series of large format paintings called Strange Strangers, together with a sculpture installation of wax figures within a built environment called Interior Spaces. The paintings were very simple, the outlines of people looking at artworks in a gallery. They were to do with an encounter with an artwork viewed as a encounter with The Other. In their simplicity, I'd seen these paintings as a potential stepping-stone towards Abstraction.
Partly because of the pandemic I now saw the chance to shift my practice without the pressure of anyone looking over my shoulder. It bought me time. I began very early on to empty out the centre of the painting, concentrating moments of difference around the edges. These paintings were later titled Plane. They led to a second group of paintings called Shift, the two groups functioning together like someone had flicked a switch. I remember a tank of oil at the Science Museum in London. It had a magnetic rod running through it. The tank was filled with iron filings. If you flicked the switch the iron particles shot through the liquid and attached themselves to the bar at the centre. If you switched it off, they released and slowly settled throughout the liquid. These groups of paintings, that I’m still working on, have something of that memory that is somehow important and fundamental to me. While the Shift paintings came out of this moment, they also began to relate to an idea of nature that was too close – too much nature. I listened to podcasts by the philosopher Timothy Morton who discusses Romantic English Literature, from Coleridge to Wordsworth and through to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The Shift paintings began to feel to me like a reanimated form of nature, sometimes calm, often beautiful, at times extremely disconcerting. The question would always arise of what we are looking at. Is it microscopic organisms, birds in a field, fish in the sea, or stars in the sky? I like this ambiguity and the fact that they are open to interpretation. Later I began to work on a series of large format abstract works that involve the pouring and movement of oil paint across the canvas. The forms that arise are difficult to predict. These spreading forms are juxtaposed with lines that might be lines of containment - like a barrier or border, or lines of measurement - an attempt to mark the spread of the form. Much of contemporary life's concerns seem to be taken up with spreading forms and an attempt to measure them; viruses, populations, conflicts, hope and love. It is as if the abstracted form, or just the idea of spreading itself has become embedded in our consciousness. I mirror this in my working on the canvas, introducing lines where the paint has spread, redefining the edge of the mark and of the picture plane.