Painting processes (Teaser)

Page 1

ANDREAS RIBBUNG Painting processes

text by Alice Máselníková

ANDREAS RIBBUNG Painting processes text by

Alice Máselníková

Capturing a painting Does art offer us a universally relatable sense of reality, or is it a subjective experience based on our individual per­ception and interpretation of the world? One of the viewpoints closely tied to postmodern thought is that while art leaves the expression and interpretation of reality open to subjective points of view and without clearly defined borders, philo­ sophical thought tends to dichotomise reality – either as being embedded in the matter, the solid object, or the very opposite, being a part of the flux, inherent to process and subject to change. Yet looking at the conception of reality around us through the lense of art and through the lense of philosophy are perhaps not such considerably different experiences as we might think.   Contrasting views of what comprises the real have been present ever since the beginning of the Western philosophical thinking: as the metaphysics of flux and the metaphysics of substance. Likely the most well-known proponent of the former is the pre-socratic thinker Heraclitus, author of the enthusiastically quoted phrase “No man ever steps in the same river twice”, generalised widely as “All things flow”. This Ancient Greek was one of the first to describe reality as a conflux of changes where the real world does not consist of substances but of a never-ending flow, with the process being fundamental for the matter, and vice versa. On the other

hand, Plato leaned towards positioning reality as ‘timeless’ and closely related to static objects, with change being treated as something incomplete and without substance – demonstrated in Plato’s set world of the heavenly ideals contrasted with the transient imperfections of the earthly existence. In line with Plato’s thinking, it is humans who make sense of the world and create meaning. Whether an object has an inherent static and solid value in itself or not, it is in our nature to conceive and evaluate something that is fixed with more ease than attempting to grasp transient ideas; it is for this reason we find so much joy and satisfaction in placing concepts into categories and avoiding the chaos of

the change.   The 20th century French philosopher Gilles Deleuze intro­ duced the rather mystifying concept of ‘becoming’, which, related to art, can be interpreted in the sense that the quality of the process of art is not based on the artwork’s becoming something else and finite, but on constantly transforming and at the same time constantly becoming what it is – what it has always been. In this sense, process and result are one, they are the movement and the life cycle of art. Its value is rooted in the process itself, based on its own unique qualities, both permanent and fleeting, and in relation to its internal and external existence. If asking whether and when art becomes

Maritime Memory

art, or is already conceived as art, we could answer that an artwork is becoming from the very first moments of its conception, which can be the artist’s idea, together with its connection to the external world and how it is affected by it, as well as being shaped by its inner transformation.   We would find numerous disparate opinions on the ques­ tion of being and becoming throughout the centuries and the discussion as to what really constitutes the real is relevant for our understanding of art for various reasons. To consider these different ideas of reality when looking at an artwork and artists’ working methods, both from the point of view of philosophy and aesthetics, and as expressed through the

subjective approach of artists, assists us in grasping how we perceive our own existence. When we contemplate artwork, is the process within its existence manifested only in our subjective experience, as a feeling; is it a captured time-based act, or one of the key elements constituting its reality? What role does process play in an artwork’s being – becoming? What traces does the process leave behind, what marks are erased; has it existed and been valid as an artwork at all its stages, even if we have never witnessed them? Many art forms directly or indirectly stimulate the viewer’s perception of the process – performance, interactive art, live painting – but the traditional displays of painting, sculpture, installation

Maritime Memory

and others keep the process to themselves. It may be that an artwork is not real until finished, or, it might never ‘become’ finished, in its continuous state of becoming.   I think it is quite a pity that we, as viewers, curators or artists, do not contemplate more in depth the act of creation and the hidden motion that dwells inside of art. As humans we are invested both in the process and in the result, but we often attribute to them a very different value and an implied hierarchy. At the same time we see the result and therefore it is impossible for us to simultaneously fully, or even partially experience the process, which has likely been lost on the way. What is rarely pondered is process in art to which we would attribute a certain independent value: as an indispensable part of the artwork, something it has once been and something that had made it what it has become as well as it has not be­ come; as a documented, presented and discussed work of art in itself, with its specific aesthetic and transient qualities.   Process is simply not something that we incline to give much thought; it tends to be seen as no more than something which happens on the way to the result. What we often forget is that process has a transformative power on any result; since process equals transformation, conclusion; the existence itself. Although becoming cannot be frozen, as much as existence cannot be frozen, we can, if lucky, glimpse it on rare occasions.   To be able to witness the process of how an artwork has come to life is not only special, but it also contributes to our

deeper understanding of the artwork, and of the artist, his thoughts, conceptualisation and progress. We get to witness mistakes, transformations, changes for better and for worse, often funny moments captured in their fleetingly awkward existence. For an artist to focus on the process can lead to better recognising his strengths and weaknesses, technical and conceptual developments, good or unfortunate steps that were taken and what effects they have had on the finished work, but also to gaining a better overall understanding of their own art practice. Such an internal dialogue with the works may lead to works that become stronger and inter­ connected. Or it may have the completely opposite effect, where the artist becomes dissatisfied with the elements of their work which they are reminded of over and over again, and regresses, taking recluse in a pause or destruction. Whichever it is for the artist, the attempt at capturing a painting in its state of becoming is brave, and at any point a rare experience for anyone to witness.

The Multiplied image Investigating the process behind painting can be traced as one of the principle elements of the Swedish visual artist Andreas Ribbung’s art practice for the past years and it is closely tied to his ongoing painting expression. Every artist has a certain fascination, be it with the concept or with the precision of the brush strokes. Ribbung’s fascination seems to be rooted in trying to capture the fluid uncountable possibilities of a painting: all those paths that a painting could have taken, but it has not. When did the decision point take place? Was this the best path – or was it the worst possible path taken? When does an artwork begin and end? Does it end with the last brush stroke? Can you pause on the way, take a step back, reflect and make the audience reflect with you? Can you identify the weak spot, the wrong turn you took; can you remake your history and affect your future? In a way it is a twisted version of a struggle towards perfection; obsessively documenting each step and comparing, judging and discussing what has never become.   The aim with this publication is to offer a presentation of the artist’s key method – as demonstrated in some of his most recent works. This publication is not meant to be understood as a concise overview of the artist’s practice, but rather as a focus on one of its very vital components – whilst at the same time attempting to consider the component as an indepen­ dent whole with its specific qualities. It offers a presentation

of one of Ribbung’s periods of work, placing strong focus on the visual. At the same time it is a collaboration between an artist and another artist-writer, a poetic play on thoughts and perception of art, concepts and transitions.   The format of the publication is loosely divided in three categories: introducing and contextualising the meaning of process in art and relating it to the artist’s approaches and methods, an interview with the artist focusing on both technical and conceptual elements of his work, and a summary of the short texts that accompany the paintings – a lyrical exchange between an artist and a viewer.   On the following pages you will witness nine paintings, presented in a total of sixty-two process-based images. The multiplication from a result through processes is evident, not only in numbers, but in the amount of visual and conceptual stimuli. What would otherwise be few images is transformed into a series – a series that does not exist in real life, but one that materialised solely for this publication. It is up to the viewer – the reader – whether they care about the journey from the beginning to the end of a painting. Perhaps their attention will be distracted, captured in one slide only, or just skimming through the depictions getting a superficial impression of the works, caring neither for the process nor the result. Perhaps it will solely be the lingering atmosphere that captivates the eye, or the brief accompanying notes that highlight some of the thoughts occurring on the way.

The Small dialogues Reality is identified with change: in a forever static world nothing would happen, nothing would grow, the world would be dead. This text begins with a reflection on whether art has the capacity to provide an ultimately relatable expe­ rience of reality, a shared sense of truth for all viewers alike, or whether it remains in the realm of the subjective.   The small dialogues on the following pages came to life as an exercise in perceiving art, captured in its process, from the perspective of the artist and the viewpoint of an obser­ ver. They are thoughts that accompany the images on their way, often overlap or contradict each other and vary between silly and thoughtful, short and long. Sometimes they follow a conversation about a meaning behind one of the stills, at other points they are singular, or missing altogether. They exist with and without the images, with the complete small dialogues summarised at the end of this publication.

The Ba

A wash of two almost complementary colours, burnt umber and emerald green, dries up with some nebula effects, and as it dries the pigment particles fall into place in different ways according to their density and the gesso priming that has absorbed sawdust from the sandpapered mdf board. The three horizontal strokes suggest a sort of a landscape. I wish for a calm, peaceful landscape, covered with moss and the air damp.

The Ba

Three shapes appear. Two animal heads and a human head in profile, with a prominent forehead. The animal at the bottom of the painting looks at us with only one eye and has only one ear, but it looks happy. And with knots in the hard wood of the very few trees growing here, in the wasteland.

The Ba

JUMP FORWARD There is a little cloud coming from the man with the prominent forehead. But I have a feeling it will not become a landscape after all, as I suddenly notice the smiling face peeking through.

The Ba

JUMP FORWARD I hate the big head by now. The white wash covering the red is inspiring. I actually did not see any head until now; blinded by the sheep’s presence.

The Ba

The calf has to go. The arch between its legs can be extended to two arches. Next to it a small creature appears, in my mind resembling a baby elephant. It was a subtle, fragile calf but it would also suffer without one leg, so perhaps it is for the best.

The Ba

JUMP FORWARD It is a Ba-bird, in Ancient Egypt an aspect of a person’s non-physical being, with dark hair and an equally dark beard. But people did not come, or they got lost on the way in the glitter of the neon lights.

The Ba

The classical scenery is complete when the two arches transform into two classical sculptures. The Ba becomes more bird-like with wings, and the shape below makes me think of a stage. It was only two courageous swimmers who lingered behind, undecided whether to jump in or not. The pool is not deep, but it is treacherous.

Spirits of Infinity

Glass fibre tissue primed with gesso and acrylic. Inscriptions made with the back of a paintbrush. Bones.

Spirits of Infinity

JUMP FORWARD The two abstract inscriptions on the left are forming parts of a human figure when the first washes of raw umber are applied. There is a floor or a ground. A lighter semi-transparent wash leaves random shadings in the raw umber wash to reveal a bear-like head and a stylised cartoon bird-man to the right. Here I miss one more step; not having seen more of the play with the etched shapes, their depth and the flat surface surrounding them.

Spirits of Infinity

The comics bird-man; is it almost a broad shouldered version of one of the Spy vs. Spy characters, in a MAD magazine comic strip? They were mosquitoes, not bird-men, were they not? Some slightly brighter colours are added, creating more solid forms.

Spirits of Infinity

The surface of the light area is finalised, ’put into place’, with white paint. I just hope they are not eating the mouse.

Between a layer and a cigarette In the years that I have known Andreas Ribbung I have grown to see him as an artist, colleague and friend, with the characteristics of one category overlapping with the others. It may be that knowing someone well is an advantage when writing a text about their work, being able to relate the artist to their art in depth – or perhaps it is a great disadvantage, unconsciously projecting the thoughts about the person into the words about their work. I have always wondered to what extent an artist’s personality is reflected in their creation.   Over the years of having met and worked with many artists, and in comparison to some of them, Ribbung’s per­ sonality shines very much through his art: his light, neither overdone nor over-thought paintings, at points self-depre­ cating and at others boasting of their vibrant colours and joyous of their own existence, pleased to be alive, even if discontented with their finite state.   A sense of humour forms a vital part of the works, whether direct or lurking under several layers of paint, a thick brush stroke or a subtle symbol, a humour someti­ mes with a touch of the mocking, but not intentionally malevolent. Erotic and bizarre motifs often make their way to the surface; we might witness them being covered up, wondering whether the artist got worried about being too straightforward with their figurativness, the explicit­

ness shielded by a layer of occasional self-censorship; or now and then we are taken by complete surprise as the grotesque jumps out straight at us in the very unexpected moment. If, at points, we feel that the artist did not know where he was heading with his paintings, it makes him only so much more relatable and the explored concept even further justifiable.   An artist and a person of contrasts might be a fitting description for Ribbung, well in tune with the idea of continuous change. Where sudden impulses are introdu­ ced all the time, they are simultaneously moderated and contrasted with the ever so slight unwillingness to take a firm decision, and made easier to contain when captured within time, offering more space to take a resolute stance. Impulsiveness and emotionally charged nature are reflected in the way Ribbung approaches art creation, and perhaps it is also a very good justification of his focus on the process which serves as a slowing-down point. At the same time the fast and sometimes haphazard beginnings of his works result in images that are unexpectedly subtle. The acrylic paint dries quickly, allowing the artist’s impatience to stay appeased at all times – change a detail he suddenly starts to grudge, make an immediate restructuring of the composi­ tion, or introduce a disconcerting animal character to break down the calm of the painting.   The various stages of the paintings are meticulously documented in the scanning process with a tenacious dedi­

Live Painting

Live Painting

Afternoon Tea

A development of the red line, covering the white, and a mirrored shape, at the same time creates a symmetrical table shape. The shape to the right is modified so that it looks a bit like a seated gorilla. This painting is still in progress. Remember the simple painting at the beginning? Do all paintings begin simple, and then become layered, or do many start too complicated, and then step back, sidestep to clarity? I wonder what makes us keep adding on, wanting to see more, gain more, live on.

With the artist I wrote on the previous pages about what one as a viewer can gain from being allowed to witness the process contained within a painting, its lifespan and path of becoming and forever non-becoming. But what motivated you in the first place to focus on this subject – why do you think it is important? Do you feel it has brought anything new to your art practice? I started to document the painting process when I was commissioned to make two series of paintings which were reproduced on large-scale billboards on each side of a metro platform in Stockholm. I wanted to make two cohesive series of paintings, and as they were to be shown as reproductions, it led to the idea to show documented stages of paintings in progress. I worked on two paintings for this commission and scanned them regularly at different stages. There was a rather short deadline, and I was very aware that there was no possibility to redo anything. I had the feeling I was putting everything at stake. Even if I would end up being unhappy with the paintings I would still have to use them; there was not enough time to start over.   The idea to show every step of the process and how the paint­ings constantly change in a ‘one-way direction’ was actually a relief for me, because I tend to have difficulties deciding if I am satisfied with my paintings. Focusing on

the process makes it less important to reach a final result. I decided to continue the experiment with more paintings, and I have had the idea of showing them in a book format from the very beginning. How did you come up with the idea of scanning the paintings and documenting their transformation in that way, instead of taking photographs? Do the scanned images gain any special quality, and what role does the material that you use play in this? As they are only 22 x 26 cm they fit in a flatbed scanner, and the detail and sharpness become much better than a photo­ graph would allow. Only if they were larger would I have had to use photography. The structure is enhanced by the raking light in the scanner, which makes the brushstrokes and layer­ ing of paint become clearly visible in the reproduction. You would not achieve this in a photograph. In the original you see the structure because it is three-dimensional.   Some of the paintings are made on mdf board, which I sandpaper and prime with gesso primer. Some are made on glass fibre tissue primed on both sides with several layers of gesso. I get a somewhat absorbent surface, suited to diluted paint and washes. I like to avoid the canvas structure, and instead prefer a flat surface where the daubs of paint and brush strokes build up a texture. You have mentioned that you see something almost performative in the process of scanning the images. Is the

R R E E S S A A A E TE TE R R E E S S A A A E TE TE performativity of documentation important to you? Or is the continuous process of creating and recreating the paintings the performative part to which you refer?

It has been said that an artwork cannot be performative be­ cause it cannot be non-performative, but perhaps you can say the creation of an artwork is performative in its ‘becoming’. Every artwork has a reality-producing dimension. I was not referring to the documentation specifically, but the presenta­ tion of the process through documentation.   I think rather that there is something performance-like in this experiment of mine, in the way the painting process is

shown, unrehearsed and without any possibility to cover up mistakes – without return. I came to think of live painting, although my method is a slow cut-up process and does not take place live in front of an audience.   I like this idea of no return. There is never a return point when you paint, although you can paint over. But if you decide to show the process you have to show that too. Many of the paintings that I am showing here are constantly over-painted. Many of them remain unfinished, and some just become ‘failures’. What decisions are made on the way from an empty sheet

The Swimmer

R R E E S S S A TEA TEA R R E E S S S A TEA TEA to the next step and the one after, and the next? What happens to the paintings during the process? How do you decide when is the right time to record a step – and why do you skip presenting some steps?

I am not very conscious about the decisions I make when I work, but I can see afterwards that for example this choice was probably more aesthetic and another more conceptual; or that this was an addition and that was a subtraction I had made. When I get the feeling that some part of a painting ’works’ I leave it – that is a decision.   This feeling that it works is neither purely aesthetic or

conceptual, and does not follow any particular standards, but I can refer to the same feeling one often has for qualities in music or a poem. It could be that it somehow feels credible or has a strong presence.   I noticed that I make almost as many additions as subtrac­ tions when I paint. There is some kind of desire to bring out figurative elements from abstract shapes in paint, and then I feel an urge to delete them, because I am not aiming to make clearly readable figurative motifs. And many subtractions are made just because there is something that does not work. A lot of thoughts are processed, but the thoughts can not be translated into words – it is not verbal thinking.

The Swimmer

This book is printed with generous support from Längmanska Kulturfonden. Published by Andreas Ribbung, Stockholm 2020, © Text: Alice Máselníková © Paintings/reproductions: Andreas Ribbung Editing: Alice Máselníková Proofreading: Stuart Mayes Graphic design: Andreas Ribbung Printed by Printon, Tallinn, Estonia First edition, 2020 ISBN 978-91-519-7632-7 Front and back cover: First and last stage of ‘The Ba’, tempera and acrylic on mdf board, 22 x 26 cm. All the paintings in this book are tempera and acrylic, 22 x 26 cm, and made in 2020.

E H T Y T U A B OKSHOP.SOEM C O T . BAPERCUbooks P stig n o k