The Conversation: The Painting

I obey only my own instincts and deep intuition. I know nothing in advance. Often I put down things which I do not understand myself, secure in the knowledge that later they will become clear and meaningful to me. I have faith in the man who is writing, who is myself, the writer.

Henry Miller,

Reflections on Writing.

Iain Reid is a quiet man, but on first meeting him you would not know it. Having traveled widely, and being a prolific artist and Lecturer of Painting at Ballarat University, he is socially fluent and brimful of anecdotes and wonderings.

In talking to Iain in a room hung with his paintings, an understanding of the man and his work slowly unfolds, and it is somewhat akin to moving through different coloured veils - finding things revealed. His quietness is something that's only gradually perceived - as an atmosphere - as a subtle harmonic behind the gregarious exterior he uses to negotiate his life - and his paintings resonate in the same way.

In conversation about his life and work, two idea's kept reoccurring.

The first was a sense of appreciation for the flux of relationships that constantly evolve around him, the ephemeral qualities of the idea of self in time and space - the intriguing quality of how self works within this flux, both with himself and all the people around him, whether it be business, a conversation, love, or a painting.

The second was the notion of the painting as a diary. Referring to his paintings, he used the analogy of a diary a couple of times, and for me, the misty movements of wax medium and oil in the paintings around us, with evocative marks and images appearing like memories of themselves, left a definite emotional tone - almost as if I was thumbing through the diary of a stranger.
...It's that notion of the painting as a diary that fascinates me - where the painting notates its own genesis. It's the movement of abstract elements within an idea, and the elevation of that idea, or concept, to the level where it loses its primary definition, and becomes something more universal, that's become an ongoing theme. in my work..

'...I look at the making of a painting in a similar way to the way I look at life - as a continual unfolding. To know something is to know it for only a moment before you build on it, and then it's changed. You are always changing the substance of it - until you stop. And the only signal you have to stop is a powerful sense of elation, a satisfaction...

There is very much an awareness, in talking to Iain, that in referring to the abstract or to the figurative, for him the two are interconnected, or even aspects of one another, referring to each other constantly - and he feels free to use either modality as part of his aesthetic language. It's not so much the visual language that fusses him, so much as the depth of the conceptual source from which it springs.

...The decisions I make along the way in the painting of -a picture is essentially conceptual decisions that are made through a sense of proportion that is instinctive. I find that the work adjusts itself to these decisions automatically. I believe that the working aesthetic should be automatic, an almost subconscious thing - how does the paint go down, how does the mark flow, and so on. It all becomes very much of a known quality when I am painting and I have developed a sense of proportion and method that's mine, and though I challenge it regularly, it largely remains as a guiding mechanic behind the emotional/conceptual play between me and the paint...

In the making of the painting, Iain sees the process of the work as one of directing the painting, not dictating it.

...I do not like to bring an image up, render it, and leave it at that. On it's own, an image means nothing to me. Implicit in any image is a history, a path to and from, and these are all as important as the image itself. The sort of work I am doing leads down an emotional as well as an intellectual path. And then there is the sensual aspect of the act of painting itself - there must be that first feeling, of colour, of tone, attitude, and then events start happening...

Sourced from many drawings and small studies on paper, Iain's paintings often work out over a number of months. He sees this lengthy time factor as having almost a purifying effect on his work, distilling it and allowing it it's own pace and identity. Over this period the purpose, the idea, the spirituality, and the intellectual involvement of the work exists as a part of him, the man, rather than as simply inspired notions or temporary fixations of the moment.

...It cannot be a transient thing - it has to be a part of my life. That's the only way these paintings can happen. So whatever wondering, or questioning that is happening in my life, will inevitably go into my work. My qualifications of myself, my thinking, my presence in my world, what I am, is all involved in the work as well...

Iain regards the conceptual wellspring of his work as the source of, and even the main dynamic in the making of his paintings, but not the intellectual means by which to interpret the result.

...They exist as reverberations, unconscious motivations, and the works refer to them, but are not direct expressions of them...

In looking over Iain's body of work, a sort of visual code begins to make itself known, and in getting to know this code and becoming familiar with it, we begin to move beyond it, and it's then that a personal relationship with the paintings begins to deepen and assert itself. It's as if, at that point, the artist is released into the history of the painting as only a reference point, a subtle modulation of tones, as marks and ambiguous forms, as the signature on the bottom of the canvass.
Perhaps the quality of this new and ongoing relationship between the viewer and the painting is of similar quality to what was happening with Iain in the paintings genesis, perhaps not - but the painting continues to resonate with it's own particular chord, and it's in moving past the veils of code, that the viewer is set free to embrace this resonance according to their own life, and their own spiritual characteristics.

...In abstract or semi abstract pieces, I think it's the intention of the work that gives it life. My knowledge, my experiences, my history, my thinking, my spirituality, all goes into the work. It's naturally a part of the work, sometimes dominant in one image, and sometimes not so obvious in others, but the intention of every work is clear - that experience, that knowledge, feeds the volition of my ideas, even creating the very need to paint the pictures...

...When you're building a work like this, or a series of works, the conceptual aspect, and the physical, sensual aspect of the making of the work all happens together, and I find new events along the way - it's like a diary of my thinking - of the process, both intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally, and it all works in with that chaotic physical aspect of the paint that often links in so appropriately...

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

Marcel Proust.

Roger Wells.

Paintings ISBN 0 464 23669 5

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