FW The paintings you exhibited at London Contemporary recently seemed to
have made strides towards a different sort of painting than I had seen in 'Babel'
and 'Fracaso' included in 'Still Life: Ambiguous Practices' (2015). They do not
display such obvious photographic qualities of tinted greyness as before, yet they
still reference photography. Neither are they so obviously staged, though you
make dramatic use of shadows, cast rather than the attached shadows of the
previous paintings. These cast shadows have the dual effect of indicating depth
whilst also restricting it. In some of them shadow is totally replaced with searing
brightness. They read like close-ups.
JG This latest group of paintings are very much more deliberately
portraiture/still life than the previous ones were, and I think that is perhaps why
I have lit them in a different way. I was trying to allude to those kind of flattering
head shots that actors always have done for their agents and for signing for their
fans. There is something slightly cheesy and unreal about that kind of smooth
lighting. I felt that when I applied that to these desperate objects that I'd
made,that a switch occurred and something that seemed profoundly sad was
happening. They also seem to occupy a less ambiguous space than the brain
paintings that I showed in 'Still Life: Ambiguous Practices'. They are, to a certain
extent, exposed and on stage. Does that make sense?
FW Yes, I think so. Your current paintings don't overwhelm with the same
formal complexity as your earlier paintings did, though they do make use of
baroque pictorial strategies. Those flattering head shots you mention make
similar dramatic use of diagonals, chiaroscuro and contraposto. Are you thinking
about shadows, twists and turns when making the models, or do you wait till
later to bring a somewhat ironic sense of drama to them through lighting and
digital manipulation? I'm reminded here of Samuel Hoogstraten's engraving 'The
Shadow Dance', 1675, and of course, Disney.
JG I honestly try to reach a stream-of-conscious frame of mind while I'm making
the objects. I think that my sensibility as an artist feeds directly into them in this
process but in a very unknowing kind of way. I'm waiting to be surprised by
them and they really do seem to work best when I'm not really pushing for any
particular outcome. The artifice comes later during the photographing and
lighting of them, I spend hours trying to give them balance and contrast during
the photographic stage.
FW Mieke Bal has written: 'The primary characteristic of a baroque point of
view is that the subject becomes vulnerable to the impact of the object.' You and I
were talking about this recently. She goes on to write: 'Baroque point of view
establishes a relationship between subject and object, and then goes back to the
subject again, a subject that is changed by that movement. This can be quite
destabilising. Scale is only one element in this transformation, albeit a very
important one. The materiality of the surface is another...Colour discrepancies
offer a third destabilising effect.'i Destabilising renders something open and
penetrable, which I guess is what you want to achieve for these
anthropomorphic things, to make them open to sympathy or empathy.
JG I hadn't thought of it quite in that way, but yes. My thinking is to make
something raw and exposed. The use of flowers for instance adds to this, the
notion that something so clearly damaged and flawed is 'making an effort' and
saying 'look at me I'm beautiful'. That sets up a particular relationship for me as
their author originator. I feel a certain responsibility for them. Generally, the
'heads' in the paintings are actually slightly larger in scale than a human head.
There is a cartoon-like thing happening I think, these huge heads on a
diminished torso, they operate in a very Disney-ish way. The use of focus/depth
of field/soft edges serves to emphasise this for me. They are both personal and
political but the political aspect has always been an understated one. It's the
politics of empathy and recognition.
I have started to try and keep the best of the objects but the very nature of their
construction means that they decay slowly, lately its been occurring to me that
I'm really enjoying this process, watching them fall to pieces, and that in some
instances they are improving! I may 1
even revisit a few of them in paintings at some point.I'm coming to an
understanding about my practice that's has gradually happened over the last
year, I feel I've 'let go of the reins' in some small way regarding the subject
matter of the paintings. I tried to convey this to you in our last discussion, there
is a growing liberating sense that I have next to zero control over this. The
'content' of the paintings is completely my realm but I feel lately that what we
might call 'subject matter' is this slippery amorphous thing that I no longer
control, or perhaps its possible that I'm too close to the content and the
materiality of my output to be anything other than myopic about it. I think that
hopelessness is the most significant breakthrough I've made in this last year. I no
longer feel the need to be so clinical in my execution, it's an exciting time for me
in the studio right now.
FW Can you convey something of the influence of film and photography on your
JG Jeff Wall would be a good example, in his case its been a very direct influence,
a eureka moment for me, this notion of an entirely plastic constructed reality as a
way of making a sustainable practice for myself. There is a wonderful ambiguity
in his work that I'm drawn to. I think I discovered him at around the same time I
stumbled across Paul McCarthy's work, and I think those two experiences set me
on my current trajectory as an artist. I tend to be drawn stylistically to quite still
movies, where not a great deal happens. Jim Jarmusch, Pasolinis 'Salo', and
earlier in my life, Buñuel's 'Un Chien Andalou' and Man Ray
FW Digital photography and photoshop, both processes that remove the
material and tactile qualities of stuff and paint are regularly used by you as part
of your preparations for painting.
JG I often return to the digitised sketch I have made from the photographs and
change things like colour relations. Sometimes I will go as far as collaging within
the program but usually that isn't necessary. More often than not it's a simple
matter of trying to create a specific mood or harmony. I'm wary of overusing the
program, more often than not I'm just editing out unwanted detail, replacing
colour and adjusting tonality. Sometimes it's necessary to scale-up a detail for
emphasis. The way I use it, Photoshop takes the place of a sketchbook.
FW Could you explain how photography is enabling you to see your models
differently than if you were relying observation alone. Photography, in the way
that you are using it here, seems to create a doubly mediated gaze for painting.
That is, a 'picturing gaze' mediated by digital processes is arguably different to
your original 'touching gaze' when you make a model. Do you foresee that
mediated outcome even as you make the model? Does your interrupting and
modifying of your view of the model create a sort of emotional/intellectual
disconnect for the viewer of your painting of it. That is, not being quite sure what
they are looking at and then not being quite sure how they are supposed to
JG It's interesting that you said 'interrupting and modifying'. The way I think
about it is in very human terms, its like I'm trying bring it comfort through
painting, show its best side somehow. In my mind the models are just a notion, a
ghost/suggestion of an idea about something that becomes a catalyst that then
may become art. When I make that crucial early decision about if I'm going to
paint an object, it's usually based on a sideways glance, or something quite
insubstantial. The object itself suggests a possibility to me that I then investigate
through photography. That original suggestion may then develop into something
else entirely, but it's never something that was manifestly there in the object, it's
as if the objects themselves are just a cypher, something that my subsequent
process needs to unlock. Unlike photography, the surface of a painting has the
footprint of a million different decisions made over a period of time, decisions
and reflexes made between the eye, the brain, the hand and crucially, the
nervous system of the painter. In comparison, the surface of a photograph tells
FW The title of the exhibition makes reference to confabulation. In a
psychoanalytic sense this is often used pejoratively to refer to unreliable
memory. But artists confabulate all the time, that is, they extend what already
exists by bringing faulty memory, prejudice and imagination to bear on
something in ways that are particular to each them and all that has made them.
Confabulation also relates to conversation, and the embellishment of events,
memories and encounters-fictions that pass for facts. It strikes me that from
coming into being as abject little models made of nothing much in particular,
they undergo dramatic confabulation when reconstructed into things in painting.
JG Absolutely. The very thing that animates them and makes them more than a
sum of their parts is pure confabulation. I think we do this as human beings
constantly. I made a painting recently that I titled 'Polish the Past until it Shines'.
It looked like a green-faced tough-guy with a huge pink Pinocchio nose. I was
thinking about how we embellish and edit our notions of self.
FW Could I suggest that you now take me through the stages from model to
painting and any recent changes to that process.
JG Lets take the most formally divergent painting here, 'Carapace'. This is an
image I had been trying to make for a couple of years. I made one painting of a
similar model sometime ago and always struggled with the balance between
content and subject. I felt I was being too literal in the previous painting; it
contained a weird little, theatrical 'head' with some kind of devil's horns. I'm
cringing now as I think about it. It's a fine balance and I think in that original it
failed. I've long had the habit of mixing my colours directly onto the canvas at a
certain point in the painting, when I've run out of palette space, and the impulse
to paint is too urgent for me to bother wiping clean and remixing colour. At some
point, rather unconsciously I think, these blotches of paint around the edge of
'Carapace' began to arrange themselves somehow. I was subconsciously (or
intuitively?) making formal decisions about them rather than them just being
spots of colour mixing that would later be erased. It became its own 'thing'.
FW Am I right in thinking that your palette has become more acidic in these
recent paintings, your light source (single or multiple) more intense, your brush
strokes more gestural in places.
JG I want the paintings to give enough visual and painterly information to
convince the viewer that they are looking at something real, something that
exists and has a life of sorts, with a past and a future. I just find that lately I'm
able to do that in a much less literal or illustrative way. I mean I'm able to
suggest detail with oil paint without actually needing to describe that detail in a
painstaking kind of way. It's the Holy Grail for most representational painters I
think,to have that kind of economy, so that the object-hood of the painting is
given more room. They are definitely becoming more painterly this way.
FW Do you think of your painting as still life?
JG I think I have generally accepted that what I'm doing is some form of
bastardised still life. The conventions of historical still life painting furnished me
with an arena or stage in which I can locate my ideas.
FW Do you recognise certain stages of the painting and states of mind as you
paint. When do you begin to notice a painting coming to an end - are others
already beginning to take shape at that time, are you impatient to finish, or is
there a rupture before another painting is started.
JG The early stage of these works is always accompanied by the same anxiety, I
try to rush forwards and establish a concrete image before my excitement about
it has faded. Once I have established the composition in the underpainting stage,
I relax and begin to really have fun. The closing stages can be a bit fraught where
I stop working from the source materials entirely and just considering the
painting on its own, trying to resolve the painting in its own right. Sometimes
quite dramatic decisions are made at this stage. Often the background colour can
be radically altered for example. I never finish a painting without having a plan
for the next one. When younger artists ask for advice something I always stress
is how important this is to me. My rule is, 'its easier to get up to speed if you are
i Bal, Mieke in Hills, Helen, ed. Rethinking the Baroque. London: Routledge. 189-