Reading marks

Marks are the alphabet for the language of the painter.

For several years I’ve been painting using sheets of paper as my palette. This started as a convenience based on the shared studio I was using and the fact that my glass-topped tabouret was in storage. When frustrated in the studio I’d often find that the paper palettes were more pleasing to look at than the real work underway. I became interested in how the marks provided evidence of the artwork manufactured but were somehow better and a more authentic record of the painting experience. The marks were like the DNA of the painting in it’s most primal form. The paper palettes were documentary. They were documents and as such they provided the key to translating the marks. I was reminded of dictionaries and translation keys.

Joan Snyder’s painting Untitled 1970 (and many others by her) feels to me like a catalog of brush strokes, organized in Snyder’s grid structure. Snyder talks at times about using the idea of musical transcription – the lines on her canvas like the staff marks on paper music and the brush strokes the musical notes.

More recently I stumbled across the glass paintings of Ryan Gander. The works on circular glass palettes are the evidence of a self portrait he made everyday for one year. (Self Portrait XII from 2012 is a series of 31 glass pieces). Mounted on the gallery wall with small shadows the marks float in space. The paint marks show little of blending and brushing. Colours look like they came straight from the tube with little mixing. He may have blended the paint on the canvas if indeed he made the paintings at all.

For me the difference between the two works is that with Synder, we try to interpret the marks as a kind of calligraphy or transcription. With Gander’s work we are left wondering about the final result, the presume self portraits, and to imagine what they looked like.