My work is specifically concerned with linking painting and agriculture, through my persona the ‘Peasant Painter’. I am interested in how painters have historically not only painted peasants, but have aligned themselves politically with farmers. Van Gogh believed he ‘ploughed his canvases as they ploughed their fields’, while Sebald Beham was exiled from Nuremberg for his political connections with the peasants revolt during the German Peasant War (1524-1525). Like many examples of peasant painters from history, I have a habit of dressing up as a peasant.
Perhaps most importantly, I have undertaken research into peasants that have themselves painted or who still paint today. I like to ask what kind of a world is necessary for farmers develop a painting culture. I would contend that farmers with a painting culture are indicative of an agricultural practice that values the local environment and community, and which has not been fragmented by productivist intensive agricultural regimes. Furthermore, by making my own pigments and paints, I aim to connect painting with the social and environment impact of its materials. It is a sort of ‘Slow Paint’ movement akin to the Slow Food Movement where every stage of the process has meaning and is inseparable from the finished painting.
FIELDWORK Q&A – October 2015
How is fieldwork part of your practice?
Fieldwork is not something normally associated with painting, which is generally seen as something that takes place in the isolation of the studio. That said, landscape painting, does have a history of fieldwork, such as the impressionists going ‘en plain air’ and ‘sur le motif.’ In many ways my paintings are an alternative response to this type of landscape painting – I look for a relationship to the landscape which does not involve repeating the trope of the painter looking ‘over and against’ at the landscape as a resource for the Western European modernist gaze. My painting is embedded in the network of relations, socio-economic-bio-political, that make up the sense of place. I try to expand painting by addressing its materiality through the relationship between painting and the figure of the peasant. This involves an attention to the sources of the pigments, especially plants and earths as having their own agency, while the figure of the peasant is evoked and inhabited as a point-of-view and a way of relating to these materials. Indeed, even thinking of ‘fieldwork’ from the point of view of the peasant rather than the scientist already changes the meaning of the word.
How would you describe your fieldwork activity?
It takes time to immerse oneself and respond to a place, and each project is different. However, my initial basic approach is to look at the local flora, for plants that have been used historically to make dyes and pigments. This may also involve researching what dye crops may have been cultivated in the past in the area, even if those plants are no longer present. It can also involve following colonial lines as certain plants reveal the migrations of flora as well as people. I will gather possible materials and experiment with making pigments. The needs of painting, in the sense of a complete palette of reds, yellows and blues, as well as brightness and lightfastness guide the final choices of materials. At the same time, the histories and stories of the plants and earths in turn guide the content of the paintings.
How are you currently sharing your fieldwork?
My fieldwork is primarily shared through the paintings which drive and frame the research, however I also make performances and video in order to communicate the processes and stories behind the pigment-making. Indeed, since these performances and videos feed into the painting and vice-versa, it is hard to see where one ends and the other begins.