City Art Reader 33: Rectify This Painting
Artist Eve Barlow invited fellow artists to complete, amend, paint over, re-arrange or otherwise “rectify” unfinished or unresolved works by the artist within the parameters of their own practice or explorations. Rectify This Painting features the works of artists: Sharnaé Beardsley, Jacquelyn Greenbank, Catherine Griffiths, Nick Harte, Clare Logan, Kim Lowe, Keren Oertly, Steven Park, Alexandra Porter, Doc Ross, Rebecca Stewart, Jason Ware, Shannon Williamson and Greg Yee. Rectify This Painting opens Tuesday the 14th of July at 5.30pm and runs through to the 3rd of August 2020 at City Art Depot.
Jamie Hanton exhibition text
Rectify this painting. It sounds simple until you start thinking about it. One of the primary bases for the project was the exploration of networks, of what they are capable of. What is shared amongst friends and peers. Eve has acknowledged that she has a generalist background in the arts – that her training was in acting. And Rectify this painting, as a simple instruction has a great deal in common with performative improvisational or warm-up activities where iteration is a defining feature of the creative process. But a warm-up comes with a different set of expectations than a rectification, a fixing, a finishing. Any artist will tell you that starting something is infinitely easier than resolving something, especially when there is an exhibition outcome. There is an innate desire to produce a worthy thing, in spite of directions or encouragement towards a “lighthearted” approach.
I’d written earlier in a kind of working document that the paintings in question are the “paintings that Barlow is not satisfied with; this could mean they are unfinished, unresolved, or finished but unfulfilled in some way.” I watched, intrigued at the way Eve was organising the exhibition, dealing not with one artist at a time, though I’m sure that was happening too, but in groups of five or six artists across three Facebook messenger groups. The whole enterprise was conducted remotely, back when the main thing keeping people apart was geographical distance, rather than the “social” kind . I watched as artists wrangled with the idea that someone wanted them to fix a painting without really explaining what was wrong with it. But in the same breath, giving over total creative control to those same artists, who, if they wished could erase Eve’s work entirely and use that negation as a starting point. The project, then, tests relationships and communication, as well as a singular notion of quality solely associated with the formal properties of an artwork.
Q&A with Eve Barlow
City Art Depot: How did this project come about? You’ve mentioned to us the idea of a collective practice, was this something you were working within prior to this?
Eve Barlow: I was despairing about not having enough time to develop or find any sense of direction with my painting. I decided, with this project, to use the notion of being judged, or perhaps not being considered a painter, as a creative parameter. Humour and vulnerability were part of my motivation. I was completely prepared for one of the artists to cut my work up and make it unrecognisable as a response. Or leave the material work behind entirely, which has been the case in some instances. Simplicity in approach was important to me – something lighthearted, something wherein artists could just take the opportunity to make, without over-complication, or worrying too much about saleability. What can be achieved with little time, not much in the way of space or resources? How will the result be valued? I’m interested in the reality of the making of the work, the context, being present in the end result, rather than being polished away for the sake of meeting commercial requirements that don’t really extend the meaning of the work itself.
My broader interests are about how people relate to each other, and how this creates social mindsets and rules, and ultimately different ways of being in the world. This project is, for me, a way of focusing on a particular artform (painting), but also tying in (intentionally, rather than incidentally) social aspects – I’ve always been interested in how objects mediate social interactions, both in the making and the viewing. I’m doing my master’s degree in material culture in the UK. It is cross-disciplinary – anthropological, art historical, archaeological and museological. I feel like it’s tying a lot of lines of inquiry together for me, and it is very much concerned with the nature of making, how that plays out in different cultures, why it is such a human fundamental, and how important material culture is in the connecting and gathering of people, and the creation of identity.
When you ask if I’ve worked with collective practice (or perhaps more accurately in this instance, social practice) prior, you have to understand the context(s) in which I consider collective or social practice to take place. I mentioned previously that the arts and humanities is a continuum – one element of practice within this continuum will invariably inform another.
Acting (mostly) involves a collective. If we are going to consider gathering people together in a collective or social practice, in which people are simultaneously actants and viewers, am I being an artist when I simply hold a party? If I hold a clothes sale and tell people stories and memories associated with each item, am I an artist then? I am aware that these are not ground-breaking questions, but in questioning what the purpose of the arts and humanities is in a broader social context, I like to blur the lines at times, between ‘art’ and ‘not-art’, and between supposedly separate disciplines.
City Art Depot: Can you describe the process or parameters behind the making of the artworks? How does the collaboration take place in the physical artworks?
Eve Barlow: The process has been slow and developmental, and relatively low-impact. I first started talking about the projects with potential collaborators about three years ago, and I sort of retrieved the idea from the back shelf when I was in Germany in 2018. It was necessary to have lightweight materials when travelling, and I like not having to be precious with paper. Rips and pinholes I just accept as being part of the life of the work. I stayed in a friend’s flat when I was in Düsseldorf and just worked at the kitchen table. I sent works back to artists in New Zealand. I did the same when I was in the UK. I know all of the artists involved to varying degrees, and the layers of social connection or the discursive backwards-and-forwards-ing may not be visually apparent in the work, but it’s this inscrutable, intangible weaving that has been the basis upon which all the work has been made. Looking at the work (and in this instance, I mean the entirety of the exhibition as ‘the work’) through a relational aesthetics lens, or even an environmental theatre lense, the focus is then placed on the interpersonal connections that make the work – without which the works would not exist.
Facebook message sent by Eve to potential collaborators, June 2017
“I’m a trained actor, which tends to push you in a direction of words, social and cultural analysis and visual stuff in terms of moving images and what they convey. In my mind, however, I’ve always been a painter. Since I was about 5, in fact. I sporadically do bits here and there, develop a sense of direction, and then get sidetracked by various projects and experience a hellish overwhelm. What I’m interested in is what can be achieved in spite of this, and that traces of this busyness remain in the resulting work.
I’ve amassed a huge pile of works on brown paper that I’ve stuffed in a corner by the dryer in the spare room. Some of you have witnessed this. I’m currently painting on white, acid-free paper. I’ve got a few scrolls ready to hand out to those of you that have already said ‘yes’ to what I’m about to propose, so pop over for a cuppa some time and pick one up to start working on. What I’m proposing: The title of the project is ‘Rectify This Painting’. And as the title suggests, I give you a work on paper to make your mark on. As mentioned, not being cumbersome is key, largely because I don’t have energy for anything else (how is that for a creative parameter), and because I find the truth of the creative process and its circumstances interesting; that is to say, I’m not overly interested in the usual ways things are polished to be saleable. The materiality of the paper allows for an immediacy that I like, and some of you have expressed an interest in working on paper because it isn’t your usual medium…. I’m interested in social interactions, and I like the idea of those being visually represented in ways other than theatre or film.”
Some artists’ comments
‘If I Had A Hammer’, Jacquelyn Greenbank & Eve Barlow, wool and rimu frame, 407x210mm, 2020, $1500
If I Had A Hammer* is a woven work that was made in response to a painting for the exhibition Rectify This Painting curated by Eve Barlow. I was a late comer to this show after a few people pulled out – I was given the painting of Eves with a month to respond. After three failed attempts to rectify this I starting feeling despondent. Then the question of what happened to the artist as genius came to mind. Does everything they touch really turn to gold? Issues around collaborations also came to mind. That they often can lack meaning and become layered without intent. How could I speak about myself without acknowledging your experience?
*If I Had A Hammer originally called The Hammer Song was a rallying call for justice and equality first written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays in 1949, it was later released by Peter, Paul and Mary.
‘Funereal Owlblood (Invertiert Altarbild)’, Nick Harte & Eve Barlow, acrylic, gesso, iridescent medium, solvent and paper on wood, 425x425mm, 2020, $1500
Process – For me the main challenge of this process was locating a portcullis into what I initially perceived to be a relatively opaque locus, or set of indicators, provided by the artist regarding where our respective responses might potentially flourish from. Luckily this proved to be more liberating than restricting as I was able to draw on recent personal research into the occult and, in particular, Western esotericism, which playfully presented a potentiality through drawing a parallel between the ambiguities presented in Eve’s painting and the etymology of the ancient Greek term esōterikos (“belonging to an inner circle”). The thing I enjoyed most about the process were the exciting places this ongoing research led me and how it impacted my approach to the visual formation of the work. I looked at Hilma af Klint’s deeply spiritual work which resulted from her engagement with Theosophy and this seeped into my response, down to her preoccupation with the colours yellow and blue, both of which had strong significance for her. They revolve around the alchemist idea of a union of opposites e.g. the yellow and the blue stand for the female and the male principles that need to be united, as do the light and the dark, the flat and the three dimensional.
‘One lay atop the other (accretions)’, Clare Logan & Eve Barlow, digital print, chalk, mediums and watercolour on cotton rag, 560x420mm, 2020, $1500
Once it reached me, this work became paper laboured over, touched, marked, crumpled, subsumed in amber medium – then placed behind dark glass and photographed, foggy echoes of the original material lurking at the edges of the digital print. Then again marked, with crumbling matter and liquid flows, summoning Eve’s lines from memory as I grappled with the meaning of rectifying. The process has been one of accumulations over and of time – of varied intent and preoccupations, of many physical changes, the anxiety of the permanence of a mark, and the dissonant pleasures of erasure and accretion.
‘That Which the Mountain Gives’, Keren Oertly & Eve Barlow, hand woven rug with donated, salvaged or swapped materials,
730x730mm, 2020, $1500
The conversation was a rehearsal; a direction and a space, in which words met and moved, receiving and returning provocations and possibilities. The making felt uncanny, at times independent and dependent, with a life of its own yet there was space for me, and others too. The work followed its own purpose, with a broader ontology; I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it sometimes through warp and weft. Once finished, the work was already escaping up the wall.
‘The last laugh’, Alexander Porter & Eve Barlow, framed photograph, 345x340mm, 2020, $1500
Eve messaged us early on, “I was reflecting on what the parameters were when I was deciding who to send what painting to, and mostly it was line and/or colour that I associated with each of you as a person, or what I thought you might enjoy looking at. Except for the yellow one! I went outside the square with that one, because I really didn’t associate the colour, or the line work or texture with any of you… The yellow one I found pretty difficult to place, actually. It ended up going to someone who might like a bit of a challenge”
So, I get the yellow one.
Yellow is not my favourite colour.
Lacking surfaces and wall space I lay the painting at my feet.
Taking a photograph is an automated response and relieves tension.
Then this unruly yellow character appears within the brush strokes
And I plant him squarely, back in the frame.
‘The Traveller’, Doc Ross & Eve Barlow, framed pigment print and varnish, 885x610mm, 2020, $1500
As an artist whose work is, or always starts with, a photograph, it was only logical to start this with a photograph, and as the moment one photographs often disappears as fast as the photograph is made I decided to destroy Eve’s original painting after photographing it. The traveller was in an image included in my exhibition Fantasyland at Chambers gallery in 2019, and given that Eve was overseas at the time, in essence a traveller, again it seemed logical to include this in the collaboration.
‘Give or Take’, Rebecca Stewart & Eve Barlow, resin and artificial flowers, 1250x500mm, 2020, $1500
Give or Take was developed in connection to the colours and evident process in my partner artwork. I wanted the act of making to remain visible in the finished piece and so allowed raw edges and mould pull to remain in parts of the work.
‘Transmission Matrix’, Jason Ware & Eve Barlow, acrylic and pencil on paper with steel aluminium, acrylic sheet, found materials, hardboard and electric components, 750x500mm, 2020, $1500
Eve asked me to collaborate, to represent an existing painting. I came to realise that I needed a Transmission Matrix; a spatial light modulator.
‘Shift Balance Adapt’, Greg Yee & Eve Barlow, pastel and acrylic on paper, 670x690mm, 2020, $1500
In a struggle to integrate my work with Eve’s I considered my approach through the Taoist concept of Wu Wei. I initially did not know where to start and finally came to the decision to follow the path of least resistance – which was for me to start again, covering over the original work entirely and then through my own workings reveal aspects of her work. In this way I have stayed true to both my art practice whilst acknowledging the original work.