Posts

There is nothing like sneaking things in at the last minute. The Robert Rauschenberg retrospective exhibition at Tate Modern ends on 2 April. If you’re reading this too late, I apologise – go and look up the catalogue which is a hefty almost two inch thick book jam packed with writings and images. (link here)

But, if you can, get yourself to Tate Modern this weekend to see the Robert Rauschenberg retrospective. Eleven rooms filled with work spanning almost fifty years.

Art work entitled 'Ace, 1962' by US artist Robert Rauschenberg during a press preview at the Tate Modern in London

Photo credit: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

What struck me most as we walked through was the sheer energy and exhilaration. You never knew what would be waiting in the next room – this man never stopped! He collaborated with dancers, with musicians, he used dirt and found materials. He turned comic books into paintings which were dismissed as irrelevance. He added found objects: socks, ties, window fans, bits of wood, a brightly painted quilt…

And just as you are getting used to this approach of using objects for their own sake rather than representation, we have a room full of the most beautiful, delicate and almost fragile drawings using transfers and quiet subtle colours. Except the whole series is based around Dante’s Inferno and the tiny figures taken from contemporary news images are highly political.

Rauschenberg Canto XIV Dante transfer drawings

Canto XIV: Circle Seven, Round 3, The Violent Against God, Nature, and Art, from the series Thirty-Four Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno

Robert-Rauschenberg-screen-prints

There is a strong sense of the era in which he was creating – JF Kennedy crops up repeatedly. Space travel, references to the Vietnam war and later the restraint upon citizens of China, our position within a consumer world all make their mark.

This is a hugely visual collection of work from an artist who didn’t restrict himself to any particular medium or approach. It also feels like work full of thoughtful consideration – a lifetime of opinions. It bristles with energy that never lets up. There is a record of a performance piece involving (from memory) roller skates, three dancers in wedding dresses, parachutes…. It seems a little out of context to me until I feel it is simply a lively reaction to what is possible.

No point in asking ‘why’ when the obvious answer is simply “why ever not?”

He seemed to move through relationships just as quickly. In 1949 he marries Susan Weil and they have a son, by 1951 he is in a relationship with the artist Cy Twombly and then another art contemporary Jasper Johns. At the time of the Pelican performance piece in 1963 he is living with the dancer Steve Paxton who talked about the idea of incorporating everyday action into dance “We began with this idea of Bob’s that you work with what’s available, and that way the restrictions aren’t limitations, they’re just what you happen to be working with.”

What did I take from it?

Think – take ideas from everywhere, it’s all valid. Don’t think – don’t be obsessed by proper materials or delicacies.

Be aware of your surroundings – use whatever you can. There is no limit. Don’t be precious. Some paintings were completed on stage and stopped when the alarm clock integrated into the canvas went off! Have fun!

Testing. From the early days he sets out to question what the role of art is. Is it new art if I just erase an existing drawing by Willem de Kooning, a process which took many hours and over 40 erasers?

Can I investigate the role of chance by creating two almost identical paintings simultaneously? 

Robert Rauschenberg Factum1 and 2

Left: Robert Rauschenberg. Factum I. 1957. Combine: oil, ink, pencil, crayon, paper, fabric, newspaper, printed reproductions, and printed paper on canvas, 61 1/2 x 35 3/4 in. (156.2 x 90.8 cm). The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The Panza Collection; Right: Robert Rauschenberg. Factum II. 1957. Combine: oil, ink, pencil, crayon, paper, fabric, newspaper, printed reproductions, and painted paper on canvas, 61 3/8 x 35 1/2 in. (155.9 x 90.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase and an anonymous gift and Louise Reinhardt Smith Bequest (both by exchange). All works © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

 

It seems his work moved in clear ‘batches’ as he leaps in steady jumps from clue to clue. Almost scientific in approach by following the leads he has already uncovered; so, I’ve done these large brightly coloured ‘funfair’ paintings and combines, what happens if I now create 34 relatively small drawings with very limited colour – what are you looking at now?! 

If you’ve ever felt as an artist that you have to have a ‘style’ this blows it out of the water!

However there is a thread and an evolution. By the end of his life, his work using silkscreened images is refined further and the last pieces combine photographs from his own collection. It feels like a cinecamera on quick rewind – quick glimpses of the world, flash backs and always on the move. Isn’t that how we now see things? 


 

 

SaveSave

I wonder if any artists know in advance how their painting will look at the final outcome? I certainly don’t and as I start this new year I’m even more unsure of the direction my work is going… but perhaps with a stronger vision of what I’d like to achieve. Does that even make sense?

There is an elusive idea of a constructed landscape: something that feels wild, that has a sense of place, of open-ness and freedom. But that is also constrained and within boundaries.

So as I settled in the studio for the first time in a while it was hard to get going. It can be tricky, almost impossible, to just pick up a brush and paint, unless you are painting a specific scene or still life. For me there is a longer processing journey – down through the layers away from original drawings.

blue collage book Alice Sheridan

If it is brave to lay your finished artwork open for criticism and judgement, it feels even braver to share when even you yourself cannot yet determine the direction. Imagine publishing an unedited book, or a play without rehearsal. And yet to follow ideas as they come into fruition is a fascinating glimpse into the process.

I’ve discovered that allowing myself to be one step removed can be a gentle way in, so I was using torn sections from old drawings, enlarged photocopies of drypoint prints and newspaper to create some strcutures in my collage sketchbook.

blue horizon collage sketchbook Alice Sheridan

blue collage landscape Alice Sheridan

Collage feels comfortable – maybe because you can play with the options before you make the final decision where to place your elements. Possibly my background as a graphic designer means that this method of layout feels more natural to me than building up a painting does. As I was adding and removing I was conscious not to overload, to keep the arrangement simple.

As I posted on Instagram I made a comment about the distinction between creating and curating. For me they are two very different parts of the process; one is semi-automatic; your training takes over, you draw through instinct. What emerges can be surprising and exciting.  And yet constantly you are also analysing, making decisions and editing. Any piece of artwork is as much about what you choose to leave out as much as what you decide to include – being selective. It’s the combination of creating and curating that takes us somewhere new.

Find me on Instagram here and I’d love to hear you views on this below!

Sometimes it can feel a big jump making the transition from a sketchbook up to a ‘proper’ painting. So what to do when you want to get from zero to hero? One of the ways I have used in the studio to bridge the gap is to work on a set of ‘improper’ paintings.

Having been out of the painting flow for a while and using ‘page ready’ media like pastels and pencils, I just wanted some time to play with the paint, mix and add without any sense of “this has to become something” which can be so crippling.

Start with something improper

Choosing 6 small canvases which were cheap so couldn’t be ‘spoiled’, I laid them all out together and began with some pastel marks and white gesso. I added some collage elements I had in the studio. You could use newspaper, maps, book pages or torn up old drawings for this. This will create a different texture to the canvas which can give added interest and prompt some starting points. Some pieces may show through and some may be obliterated as you progress.

AliceSheridan_6canvas start2.jpg

Just starting on 6 ‘improper’ canvases: begin by making marks with pastel, adding gesso and collage to build up a base layer.

After this stage it all got a bit haphazard. The aim is to work quickly, without too much thinking as you apply the paint. Look at a sketchbook page or out of the window or an image in a book to get you started but then try and work with your intuition:

  • change marks from big to small
  • switch brushes
  • move the brush differently

Lots of this was painting direct from the tube: the mixing was happening on the canvas, not on a palette. This can be a good way to ensure coloured areas have some life to them – variety within each area of colour.

I was thinking simply of creating an underpainting layer and deliberately using much brighter colours which would show through the top layers and not appear dull.

 

Carry on adding instinctively. Theses are much brighter colours than I usually use to create a lively underpainting.

Carry on adding instinctively. Theses are much brighter colours than I usually use to create a lively underpainting.

At the moment I’m not sure on the boundary between figurative and abstract in my work. I’m reading a lot about it while I try to figure it out and often feel myself going in circles. But this exercise reinforced the idea:

the learning is in the doing…

Before long I was reminded how areas with a strong contrast jump out; sometimes this is helpful and sometimes you need to knock it back. Working over one layer using a contrasting tone or colour create some interesting effects especially if you want to scrafitto through with a pencil to reveal some of the underlying area.

20141005-090811-32891331.jpgSome canvases had an arrangement of shapes and colours that seemed unbalanced and playing with composition in this way, wrestling with the decisions of what I needed to change to bring it back in line is useful. Different moods were created, through colour and shape. It’s funny how things emerge: without any planning one set of marks seem to suggest a jumping grey horse at a circus.

I am not thinking of these as finished pieces; I think I’ll use them as ‘warm up’ pieces at the start of each session. Or just to test out colours as I paint on another piece. The layers will build as I work over and over. It will become a mess, and then get resolved. Perhaps…

..and the hero? The hero is a larger painting that has been waiting in the wings but which is now well on its way to being finished.

I often post work-in-progress on the Facebook page where it can be easier for people to comment (and quicker for me to post immediate updates than write full blog posts!) so if this is the first time you have been to this site please head over to the Alice Sheridan Facebook page and ‘like’ for an easy way to keep in touch.

Best wishes for a creative week,

Alice x

AliceSheridan_6canvaslayers