Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

The Walls Have Eyes

by Connie Anthes

21 Sep 2012

When Paul Delaroche allegedly proclaimed that “Painting Is Dead!” upon seeing the first daguerreotype image, perhaps no one had told him that Paint itself was alive and well and now living in a warehouse in St Peters. I know this to be true for at least one 4-litre can of Accent Interior Low Sheen “Volcano Dust”, a 2-litre of “Fresh’n’Minty”, and countless other tins taking up valuable space in Georgina Pollard’s painting studio. You see, Pollard is on a mission to rescue paint from the lowly role of The Medium and transform it into The Maker.

We are all reasonably familiar with the Modernist impulse to liberate painting from the frame: so that now it seems natural to talk about painting in three dimensions (four, if you include time), otherwise known as ‘the expanded field’[1]. This expanded field has always been experimental; artists like Lynda Benglis poured paint out on the floor to further Feminist agendas in the 60’s, and now-now painters such as Katharina Grosse continue to expand our experience of the medium. But is anyone listening to what Paint wants to do? In Pollard’s case, she believes the paint itself can decide when it’s a finished painting, by virtue of the fact that it becomes just that when there is enough pigment and binder applied for it to hang from itself unsupported. The artist starts the paint, but then the paint (and gravity) decides what it will do and where it will go, in a sort of controlled fall.

I should clarify here that we are not talking about anthropomorphising paint. We are talking about its material qualities and what it is physically capable of and/or likely to do. With an alarming lack of ego, Pollard places her own aesthetic decisions on a level playing field with the properties of The Medium. This ethos is part of the artist’s broader attempt to entangle her art-making process with day-to-day life, which involves interruption by mundane chores, relationship maintenance and the other ephemera of living. Pollard still wants to make remarkable things, but she also wishes to demystify the process and the perceived “apartness” of artists from the everyday.

Perhaps this is why the artist has been so willing to listen to what the paint wants to do. It is a way of distancing herself from the limelight – both salutary and critical – and allowing Paint to take centre stage. This idea has been examined by Pollard over several years and became the subject of her 2011 solo show, Through Lines, at A-M Gallery. With a series of white-on-white works that utilised standard gallery wall paint, the artist showed us how paint on walls could be liberated and even become the subject itself, in a sly critique of the way we look when we’re standing in a white cube.

In Pollard’s recent show at ATVP, this deliberate blurring of walls and work are taken somewhere new in Through Lines II, by coupling the domestic world with the art world (two awkward bedfellows if ever there were). For this show, Pollard has sourced her raw material from private homes (did they have any house paint to discard?) and council clean-ups, thereby introducing the aesthetics of ‘the stranger’ as a participant into the process of making. Unsurprisingly, we see creamy whites and feature walls enter the palette, with each resulting work a communion of paint and taste; good, bad and indifferent. Judgement is withheld by Pollard here as she respectfully engages with the personal.

Moving on from white walls, Pollard says, ‘the paint slips outside the gallery and moves into the world, around the exterior wall of the gallery and next door into someone else’s interior, into their subjectivity or choices.’ It’s a way of exchanging the gallery space – which has always made Pollard uncomfortable – for the lived experience and the belief that art should be inseparable from life. This body of work clearly professes a willingness to draw these strangers and their stories as ‘performers’ into her practice. And while we can see intensely formal relationships in paint, the work also delicately describes the many ways we anonymously touch people’s lives.

The paintings in this show are avowedly flat affairs that unwillingly tickle the third dimension, as poured pigments strain against one another to produce subtle undulations in their surface. Pollard happily lets the paint misbehave; works are draped over chairs, corners curl and stray lines fall out from walls. In Hearth (shape), for example, we see the intersection of a diamond pattern with a tartanesque – strangers meeting for the first time – and it becomes clear that the artist, like us, is holding her breath to witness the result of this unexpected co-mingling.

Seen from behind, these works are just as interesting, with visible slippages that reveal the process of their making. For me, this is when the work becomes more than pattern and gestural repetition; what we are looking at is Time itself, being drip-drip-dripped out in successive moments so that the final paintings become the stories of their making.

One wonders if these works should even be in a gallery – the artist herself has always felt they would be more at home, well… in someone’s home. This is particularly poignant given they were made among the clunk and rhythm of domestic studio life: paint poured, dishes washed, paint poured, homework done, paint poured, dinner made, paint poured... and so on. In a way, the gallery makes the work seem more self-conscious than it in fact is; I suppose in part because one must make good the impression of being serious about an art career, which Pollard most certainly is. At least at home, these works can again participate in the uninterrupted theatre of life.

Georgina Pollard’s Through Line II was shown at ATVP, 565 King Street NEWTOWN, from 23 August - 16 September 2012.

[1] Rosalind Krauss. Sculpture in the Expanded Field. October, Vol. 8. (Spring, 1979), MIT Press, pp. 30-44.