Painted Some Things – F. van Hout
1. The Painted John Gibbs
John Gibbs, (1831-1909),
Clearing up after rain, foot of Otira Gorge 1887
Oil on board
420 x 605mm
One day I was talking to someone about making art and how expensive it has become. I explained that for me to make work I must buy a canvas and several paints. I must also get the work framed and then of course, time spent making the work must be considered. It all adds up. I then went on to describe how I avoid these problems, by searching through secondhand shops, buying existing paintings or prints that are already framed and re-using the hardboard to do my own artwork on top of. Then I would have a frame-ready artwork, ready to be shown and sold. For me, this process was never about incorporating the existing works into my own works – that came later on, as I started to use this cheaper process to make work again and again.
Once while I was fossicking through the painting section of a secondhand shop I came across a framed hardboard print of Clearing up after rain, foot of Otira Gorge (1887) by John Gibbs. I was reminded of an art history lecture on this painting and just knew I had to add this print to my growing collection of found works. This painting in particular began to inspire a new kind of process, one where the existing work might feature in some way within my new work painted over top.
I got it home on my bike and my mother asked me what I was going to do with it, as she liked it as it was. My response was: “To paint it of course”. However being such a significant work of art, I began to feel as though there was now more than one way to approach painting it. Should I do a reproduction of it, or should I paint over it, or should I just leave it – so as to exhibit it as the reproduction it is? So, as you do with paintings, I hung it up on a wall so I could ponder its fate.
There was a time that I was doing some paintings on the concept of the digital pixel, which had grown out of my 20-year career in the computer animation industry. More recently, this has become intertwined within my current painting practice of gridding up drawings in order to transfer them on to a canvas.
At the time of doing this work, there was the ‘Go Digital’ campaign going on through the media, you know,
where television was changing from an analog to a digital signal so everyone had to buy new television sets. I suppose all these things were working on me in some small way.
Then one day I took down the John Gibbs and ripped the print from its frame and decided to grid it up. The only pencil I had lying around was this red Faber-Castell watercolour pencil; oh well, I was going to paint over it anyway. But what size grid to draw? The ruler was already marked with 10mm or 1cm marks, why not just stick with that? So I had just finished painting over all of the clouds and had put it back on the wall to look at for a while and to see if it was working as I had hoped. Although it was definitely starting to get there, I left it wondering whether I should paint over all of it, or leave it with just the sky, or go down to the mountain line, or the horizon line? So I left it.
I remember in the lecture that Gibbs’ mountains and sky were described as a manifestation of romanticism in travelling to discover a new, beautiful landscape. As I looked at the painting a little longer, I thought of the Southern Alps being this enormous divide between both sides of the South Island. I thought of the great leap we had just made from the analog world to a new digital world. I also thought about the slow shift from European art to New Zealand art. This latter thought was even more significant as I painted a modern artwork over a traditional one.
Perhaps this is what the artwork was saying to me as I left it there to ponder once more. Finished but not finished.
2. Painted Place Mats
J.C. Hoyte, Pink and White Terraces c.1886
Charles Blomfield, The Greenstone River 1906
W.G. Baker, Waiohine River c.1920
John Gulley, Crossing the Bealy 1882
All reproduced prints, oil on cork board,
210 x 290mm
“For a long time I harboured an irrational dislike of the landscape painter John Constable, based mostly on the fact that his paintings appeared on my grandparents’ ‘good’ place mats… Never trust a place mat.”
– Justin Paton,
How to Look at a Painting
(The Ginger Series no. 7)
Awa Press, 2005.
After reading ‘How to Look at Painting’, this quote stayed with me for a long time. I thought it would be great to put an exhibition of painted place mats and joke about it with friends. It also reminded me of things in my life that I had come to dislike, for example precious domestic ornaments that got put in front of me but that could not be touched, such as the Dutch Delft plates and tiles that surrounded my childhood.
So I was on the hunt for some place mats. Maybe I’d find a full set of Constable mats, but really all I wanted was to have a set of New Zealand landscape-based mats. One day I was out cycling and thought I would drop into one of the secondhand shops I often forage through, to see if I could be so lucky to uncover what I had only just begun searching for. Lo and behold, there in the kitchen section was a whole set of five New Zealand landscape painting place mats, just sitting there waiting for me. These were certainly going to fit in with the ‘John Gibbs’.
So pinned them to the wall of my studio and of course they hung around for a while waiting for me to come up with a plan of attack. Then that day came. I gridded one up again with the same red pencil. I started with the ‘Pink and White Terraces’, that is, I painted the foreground terrace up and hung it back on the wall. I did this as a way of showing that this part of the Pink and White terrace has gone, destroyed, or blurred out of memory, existence. I was thinking how we have only the paintings and the photo left to remind us of their prior existence.
3. Painted Trays, Various Sizes
Sm: 190 x 260mm
Med: 285 x 365mm
Lge: 350 x 450mm
Ex Lge: 380 x 480mm
Oil on plywood
4. Painted Trays, The Equation
2 x Sm: 175 x 330mm
Cir Sm: 310mm diameter
Cir Lge: 340mm diameter
Oil on plywood
Maybe it was the designer in me that got me started on collecting the kitschy wooden trays and old platters from secondhand shops – seduced by the wood grain and the colours of the reproduction. Or maybe it was the memories of my childhood – lining up in food halls to self serve food onto so many trays everyday. Perhaps even more now I think it is the painter in me that thinks of cubist wood grain paintings seen in lectures, books and galleries. Whatever it was I knew I wanted to add to them, and to create work that centres on these thoughts.So I did some paintings on some trays to see if the idea would work. I just had to start with Cass (1936) by Rita Angus. As a painting, it has become one of those iconic images that had to be included in some way. It’s that great New Zealand thing to do: if you want to sell something, put a well-known image onto it. So I abstracted it for good measure, just so it would be understood as being art rather than craft. But I didn’t like the outcome. It was too obvious. Rather than a painting on a tray it became a decoration, or something you would find in a shop today. Not what I was after.
So here I was with another tray sitting in front of me wondering how to go about painting it. At the time I was listening to an audiobook on black hole theory. In this book the author describes the universe as being made up of pixels. So, again, I began to grid this one up too, and paint over it as I had done with the Gibbs painting. I also had a collection of different sized trays that I could use, which connects to this kind of reproduction of crafty, domestic objects to 3D printing, which has changed the way we make and reproduce things. It feels even more now as though everything today is nothing but a collection of pixels.
So here we are: a tray being a tray, a place mat being a place mat, and a painting – well it can be a painting or maybe it could be used as a door stop if it needs a job. These objects are what they are. They are all things I have found and found interesting and that I have changed to make something new and to tell something new. I have found connections with these objects through this process, as well as through discussions with friends, family, people on the street and my make believe friend. That is why I decided to call the show ‘F. van Hout Painted Some Things’.
Thanks to: my Mother, Dad, Ronnie and the rest of my family, to Chloe Geoghegan, to the City Art staff, to all my friends, and to anyone who has ever believed in me and enjoyed my artwork.
Text written by F. van Hout
Edited by Chloe Geoghegan