Maintaining an art practice alongside a regular job is all the harder if you live in an exciting place -in my case Vietnam – that you just want to go and spend time discovering and exploring. Paradoxically, new experiences are a well-known stimulant of creativity. I was a little surprised with myself when 3 weekends turned into an unexpected mini art project.
I have never been very interested in painting still lives, but one idea leads to another, and I came to making some. This is why: I went to Ke Ga beach one weekend, packing the sketchbook that accumulates drawings of found stones, towels and other stuff that looks gorgeous when you are on holiday. I didn’t use it much.
The wild landscape of eroded rocks propelled me to take hundreds of photos, and long walks. Across miles of sand, seashells and driftwood squatted between the rocks. Few artists can resist the tactile urge of holding these objects. Some were too beautiful to give back to the sea, and they came with me back to the big city. The light weight of these objects is surprising. Weekend one in this trilogy was devoted to research and to collect materials.
Looking out at my neighbour’s terrace after holding my little treasures, I saw these concrete tables and benches, of a type that I have only come across in Asia. They are not labour-intensive to produce, and they are so adapted to the climate the design is unbeatable: they never blow away or get damaged in tropical storms, they don’t harbour bacteria and they dry quickly after monsoon rains. I find their functionality and stumpy shapes very attractive. And so the next weekend, both ideas collided and I was compelled to paint a chair too heavy to move by myself on a lightweight piece of wood.
I started off with some pencil sketches, which were nice but too clean and flat. On a whim I tore them up and stuck them on card and layered them with acrylic paint. The spatula and the rough surface were good practice for painting on three-dimensional objects. The finished collage, ‘Floating Bench’, has the quietness of an empty beach, but it is both an exploration of forms in space and of tactile qualities. In any case, it is a by-product of the preparatory work of the actual painted objects.
I was fascinated by the perfect smoothness of this piece of balsa wood, lighter than chocolate mousse, a haptic surprise. It arrived in Saigon with other found bits that went into my carrier bag too. The second weekend in the trilogy, the wooden junk had become a portable art object, tattooed with a pencil drawing that hid under layers of paint and graphite. the restfulness of the bench is an inherent quality of the natural object. Erosion and human manipulation have intervened to show the beauty of gentle sloping lines.
A hardened sponge that must have been the bumper of a fishing boat was fragile and crumbly, but so light to the touch and nicely oval that it begged a career change. The podgy concrete table, companion to the bench, was painted onto the fragile sponge, which I coated in transparent primer to give it a bit of strength after a hard life as a tidal plaything. the finished object is still quite delicate, in contrast to the image it now transports.
One further block of wood, a heavy, triangular-sectioned stake will become the third piece in the 3D trilogy. The wooden lump lacks all of the airiness, portability and lightness of this other type of chair commonly found in Vietnam:
P.S. Post updated: in December 2011, these sketches were sold in the Arts For Mobility charity auction.