I imagine that most of you who read my blog have met me at an event and talked to me a little about why I do what I do and why I use what I use. This blog post will give you a little more insight, and if you have ended up here without having met me, hello and welcome and it may all be new news to you.....
The materials I use are central to my practice, gorgeous pigments that have woven through our human story over time: From before the beginning of recorded history, up to the present there are colour traces of our interactions, cultural exchange and trade. The starting point for all my work is research, research into which pigments played a role in a place at a particular time, and how interactions between people of that place can be traced through the presence of the same pigments in other places.
I choose pigments from three sources. For indigo I will only use fair traded indigo and I source them from India and South America. For some earth pigments there are occasions where I have sourced them from the earth itself, in Scotland with the help of a geologist, and in South Central France from my brother’s garden and around there. This requires a great deal of patience and processing. The third supply is from the shops: Generally I use Cornellissen’s because of the high quality pigment they stock and the expertise of their staff, and occassionally I use Sennelier. I combine these with oil painting media of only the very best quality, from Robersons, Hardings and occasionally a siccative or two from Jacksons.
So that’s how I get hold of them, but how do I decide which pigments to use? Well any collection is based on research into how pigment played out in a particular history or geography (and descriptions of this are at the base of all the gallery pages on this website), so for example the Bristol Presentiments Series used only pigments that were listed as having been imported through Bristol Docks in the first half of 1770. I researched this using the Bristol Library archives where they hold the Bristol Presentiment papers. These were papers published in 1770 as a kind of Yellow Pages, listing who had imported what and distributed publicaly so that people knew what they could buy from which merchant. And the period or events I choose to investigate are those that have a resonance with the Now.
And then there is the material quality of the pigment itself, how it combines with the different media, it’s chemistry, compatibility and incompatibility, opaqueness and translucency, colour fastness or fugitivity, evenness or otherwise of the coat of paint it will provide. Pigments do not all behave in the same way. You might for example use carbon black in ink with very speedy drying times, try it in oil and you must add a siccative or you will wait months for it to dry; Try a different carbon black, (there are a large number,) and it might give you a trnslucent splotchy surface where once you had an opaque even one. This is the alchemy, the place where however much you read about pigments and their qualities, however many colour encyclopedia you have swallowed there is no replacement for play, experimentation and experience. This is the place of joy and sorrows.
So I make my own paints, not just because it is a good grounding way to start my studio session each day, but because I use only the finest ingredients, I know how to make them so they will do what I want them to do, and because their provenance and history is so central to my practice, that opening that jar and handling the best quality of pigment is central to what I do.
This relationship with materials is the craft of what I do, and it has meant that I have been headhunted by Cramer and Bell for the Bergman and Mar “Makers and Craftsmen” Project in London. I will be showing and auctioned along side a range of other people who make art, furniture, ceramics, textiles with the same kind of relationship to authentic quality materials. If you are interested in visiting the curated show house please let me know and I’ll invite you along to the events when they are planned.