Watching footage of Nares at work on the new paintings, he might look, if seen from above, like a hardworking, earnest linesman at some cricket pitch, scoring the grass with his rolling machine, deciding when the job is done. He is both the artist making aesthetic decisions — where to place his line, when to start, when to stop — and the artisanal workman collaborating with his crew “on the ground.” I use a pretty old machine that I call “The Little Dragon,” because it heats up the paint to about 500 degrees. When it gets going, the paint takes on the qualities of lava, but it’s a cool, icy white that flows from this machine. If it sticks to your hand, it is impossible to remove and highly toxic. I have to physically use the lever to start and to stop the flow of paint, and it’s that stopping that is like “cutting” the line of the painting; when it’s correct, it’s a beautiful, pure line. Even though it takes place outdoors and looks spontaneous, I do use a certain amount of preparation. I have these tiny, inch-and-a-half squares of black paper, and with Wite-out I try to work out, in black-and-white, what to do in advance the night before — but nevertheless, I still end up “winging it,” literally. Likewise, Agnes Martin plotted her paintings at the size of postage stamps before scaling them up, figuring out the final composition from a tiny initial sketch. And these Runway Paintings obviously play with the whole history of modernist abstraction, an extension, if not borderline parody, of the tradition of 20th century non-objective painting. There is something of Soulages, an echo of Franz Kline or even Hans Hartung, and a Hofmann-esque push-and-pull of the picture plane. These works suggest the spontaneous stroke, the wild gesture of Abstract Expressionism, and tardif Tachisme, whilst claiming the status of being nothing more than products of an industrial process — a simulacra of gestural actionism. As such, they might be linked to Roy Lichtenstein’s flat Pop image of a brushstroke, or Glenn Brown’s smooth-surfaced fake impasto. They are similar in some ways to my Road Paint paintings, but also very specific to airports, cat’s eyes, flight paths, the magic of the runway; even the fluorescent clothes of the ground staff. I really like those air traffic control titles such as “whiskey,” “foxtrot,” “tango,” “Zulu”... Maybe there is an element of flight in all my practice. And these new works literally “take flight.” It is like painting with light. They take flight when the light hits them — lifts them out of their gross materiality. In fact, when they are finally mounted, it is onto aircraft aluminum, which is perfect. The aluminum is obviously stronger than canvas, and gives them a very different presence. By contrast, the works-on-paper, made using the same technique, are much more simple, fragile; mounted and framed without glass in a shallow box.
Considering how important they are, and how stuffed with public art commissions, there is curiously little art about airports: photographs by Fischli & Weiss, neon names by Langlands & Bell, and early works by Guillermo Kuitca. Nares’s paintings start from a literal reference to the airport, but are also “reflective” in every sense; by extension, they suggests a rich range of references and associations, breeding poetry from their formal plasticity. As such they immediately summon that most overused term of Gilles Deleuze, the “line of flight.” In fact, as translator Brian Massumi notes, “ligne de fuite,” in French, “covers not only the act of fleeing but also flowing, leaking, and disappearing into the distance. The vanishing point in a painting is a point de fuite.” Nares’s “lines of flight” are quite literally “flowing” and “leaking.”
The paintings also suggest an aerial view — jet trails through the sky — and in fact, Nares himself had an uncle who was a Spitfire pilot, using high-resolution cameras,flying over enemy installations. An even more extreme biographical connection might be to dare propose some link between these ploughed white tracks and the tracks made by Nares’s great-great-grandfather, Sir George Strong Nares, the Arctic explorer, and his sledging party through snow and ice in search of the North Pole. Otherwise their rich black velvet surely evokes the night sky, and the glass beads some brilliant galaxy of stars, those that offended Hegel by the irrationality of their distribution; a scattering that obeys no logic — luminescence without order or intelligibility, what Trakl termed the “dust of the stars – staub der sterne.”
James Nares’s studio, 2017
I guess one could consider these my “Brutalist” paintings — my brutal side, with this tough texture, but numinous light. They have so much to them because they are so variable in each sort of different light. So much of it is in the lighting. They are often at their most beautiful in daylight, with a sort of snakeskin, shed-skin effect. They come from a simple process, but with complex results, morphing into something else. Best of all, the kids understand immediately — they just get out the flashlight on their phones. They get the idea at once, that thing of being both industrial and lyrical. 7
R U N W A Y PA I N T I N G S
Detail SIERRA, 2016
OPPOSITE, AND ON PAGE 8:
SIERRA, 2016 thermoplastic on aircraft aluminum panel 84 x 84 inches 213.4 x 213.4 cm
VICTOR, 2016 thermoplastic on aircraft aluminum panel 84 x 84 inches 213.4 x 213.4 cm
ABOVE AND OPPOSITE:
VICTOR, in two different lighting conditions.