Salve 2010-2021: 20 paintings = A process of memorialisation:
A group of 20 unfinished canvasses made over 10 years ago carry in the very materiality and in the velocity of the application of marks, the anticipatory grief I was experiencing at the time. They were difficult to walk away from yet it seemed impossible to re-engage with the narrative embedded in the now hardened paint. I asked artist friends for advice on how to deal with them and was advised to soften the existing paint with turps and scrape them back and use an electric sander to make a smooth new surface. I realised then that I did not want to eradicate these memories entirely; I wanted instead to find a way back into the narrative that I had started in a very different mood, in very different circumstances. Lockdown has enabled a productive time working from home, making mostly works on paper after a trip to Ireland in March 2020. Bringing unfinished paintings to a point of resolution has embodied an acceptance of what was happening to me 10 years ago, into a different context and that very process has been a form of memorialisation.
Salve (vi) 2010-2021
Abstracted natural forms are used to express experiential emotions (with the directness of drawing) of fear and fury. In physical terms the terrain consists of thick, hardened paint, a surface that implied permanence. Highly charged colours also seemed immutable. I considered destroying them to clear a mental space for new work, yet there were elements of each unresolved work that I needed to accept as part of my past, before I could create a way forward. There were formal aspects too that I liked; destroying them would be silencing part of the narrative that I might develop and be emboldened by.
As I prepared to resume my visual narrative with these old conversations, I found that the application of new oil paints, directly from the tube was like applying ointment to a wound. The application of the softer palette calmed the inflamed rose madder and black. The paint application onto the existing angry surface became tender and healing.
SALVE (i) was perhaps the most confronting canvas; after re-engaging with it, I was unable to sleep and felt quite disturbed by the intensity of colour how ugly the plant forms were, as if they might assault me or a viewer. Applying new paint, soft Naples Yellow and white in short marks that I employed first in the exploratory The Osgood Suite (2011-2013) I felt as if I was calming a storm. I was now acknowledging the trauma embedded in the unfinished work and with it a sense of abandonment I experienced, but I was now introducing a measured strength. I might well have been darning a damaged cloth, weaving aspects of the torn fibres back together.
The word ‘salve’ denotes mitigation; its application is soothing. As a noun it is an emollient. The etymology of salve relates to ‘salvage’ that in turn refers to reclamation, to remains, what has been relegated to the scrap heap. Aspects of artistic process exist in parallel to the processing involved in grief. The completion of these paintings a decade after their conception can be seen as the exhortation of loss, which Joseph Beuys believed was essential. While I considered destroying these painful memories in the form of unresolved paintings, a casualty of the constant interruption to studio practice whilst a carer over 18 years, re-engaging with them is itself, an act of faith. Approaching the canvasses again implies a steadfast belief in the healing process of visualisation.
Salve (vii) 2010-2020,
oil and wood ash on canvas
1 Show Your Wound is a photographic multiple related to an installation of the same title from 1974-5. Beuys studied medicine before he turned to art and created his own symbolic language of materials linked to storing energy, protecting, containing and healing, developed as a result of his experiences serving in the German army during the War. In his work, fat, felt and iron are particularly significant materials.