October 2017


My current area of investigation is gesture and mark making, how I can control and create relationships between different types of mark making in paint, applied to a surface. Previously after a transitional stage in the work I was producing, I stripped everything back conceptually and what I was left with was four different ways of applying paint to a surface; a stain, a pour, a drag and a brushstroke- this felt like a really honest culmination of my practice and emphasised what I was actually interested in. Essentially I am interested in paint as an autonomous thing and how the artist or maker can apply this material in different consistencies, pigmentation, hues and viscosities. I’d like to make paintings that are visually dictated by processes; paintings about painting.


This body of work is about gathering different techniques, tools or processes to produce different forms of mark making; it is about creating paintings with a culmination of marks that had been gathered previously through experimentation. This exploration of the role of a ‘tool’ is something which I want to fully exploit this year. I am interested in the idea that I could create a specific set of tools to make specific marks allowing me to make paintings in a more systematic way perhaps. The ‘tool’ acts as an extension of my will or my gesture as I would be creating/adapting it myself, however it is still a mechanism or a thing outside of my own body. I have started by producing a catalogue or index of marks in oils with various tools and then photographing them. Materially I have gathered knowledge of how paint materially engages on surfaces, I understand about the ratios of medium, solvent and pigment. I want to extend this knowledge now to how to apply this material to the surface in specific ways to make specific effects. I want to learn how to under-paint in oils, create thin washes over something heavier, create straight lines over something more organic and how to apply paint in a compositionally successful way. 


I have previously struggled with the holistic view of my practice, concerns over how it all fit together and how my subject matter or what I was looking at was being translated into my paintings. I became really hung up on making every painting speak about what I was interested in and being completely tied into my research. I am interested in fundamentals, the basics; stripping things back to the world around us and responding to it. Nature and the act or gesture of painting are sources of inspiration for me. Paint allows me to try and balance the progression of growth, cycles and systems found in both the act of nature as well as the act of painting. Essentially I am still inspired by landscape and our perceptions of the places we exist in, shape, form, colour and line. However, I think I want to be more objective this year about how that feeds into my practical work. I understand that that is what feeds my work in terms of shape, form and colour. However, I do not want to label it too closely or use representational shapes too strongly because then there is no other way in. I don’t want to force people into a specific association with the paintings, I want there to be a little more give and take and for them to exist on their own as beautiful things. Within the last two paintings from the previous year, I knew something was missing from them and they were not resolved but visually I want to continue on from these. I would like to explore the possibility of isolating the different marks, to create more of a clarity; perhaps limiting myself in specific pieces to a certain number of marks made. I want to be making work that is relevant and current, speaking of colours we see everyday, approaching light in a more technological manner (priming with thixotropic oil primer will give a luminosity) and containing movement that engages the viewer.

Within my area of investigation, there is a direct correlation between my practice and my current research. Within the latter I am exploring the relationship between gestural and systematic mark making in contemporary painting and whether the two co-exist or if one has superseded the other. This study came out of a need to situate the tensions I felt in my own practice into the contemporary art world. I was so confused about how I could naturally call myself a gestural painter, with significance for me lying in the importance of the artist’s hand in the process; yet I also craved a kind of system that would take away some of the decision making from me in the painting process.  This has led to a lot of reading surrounding the state of contemporary painting, the Vitamin P books have proved successful as a kind of index in terms of understanding what is being made currently. The Indiscipline of Painting by Martin Clark and Sarah Shalgosky has also acted as a huge resource in terms of artists both for final study and practice research for example David Reed is a painter I was unaware of previously.  The idea of ‘Zombie Formalism’ is something that has also been rolling around in my head recently, mentioned initially by Shwabsky in Vitamin P2. He discusses the state of abstract painting currently and how it has been so hugely affected by the internet and how easily accessible art is online. How images are just greedily taken in and consequentially artists are churning out formalist abstract work (like zombies).  This has been in the back of my head all summer and seems to be effecting how I make decisions, how is painting read in comparison to our current popular culture? What now makes painting significant? Are the values that existed in Abstract Expressionism still relevant? Or have they become obsolete due to the revolution of the ‘screen’ and mediated imagery?

Show More

© 2019 Holly Nicholls