M A R G A R E T ellen T U R N E R: about painting 

About the work in artwork. Media Release, 20.2.2014

In the pause after a major exhibition I have time to reflect on the work that went on in the studio for all those months – 3 years in fact from, go to woe – the work that is always hidden from the viewer of the finished paintings. What artist researcher, Barb Bolt, calls the “magic (in) the handling” (2010).

While I’m in the studio I am thinking about processes and materials, not outcomes. I leave the ‘what it is or might be about’ to some vague other time, when this process is finished, a time that I cannot even conceive at that stage. If I have a picture of what is occurring, it is that that I am attempting a small step into the unknown, and, I like to think, even creating ‘new’ knowledge, which is what Bolt contends in her writing on art practice as research. She says artworks are not of necessity the “representation of an already formed idea, nor…achieved through conscious attempts to be original” (2010). Instead she describes the work in the studio as a place where “new knowledge in creative arts can be seen to emerge in the involvement with materials methods tools and ideas of practice”. Bolt describes this as praxical knowing. “Whilst the artwork is immensely articulate…in its own right, tacit knowing and the generative potential of process…reveal new insights” (2010).

Certainly these ideas that Bolt articulates account for my experience in the studio where I am immersed in a kind of permanent indeterminate moment where there is no movement and in which everything happens. Many theorists hypothesize that works of art opens up such a spatio/temporal world that is made up of both real information, as obtained through sensory perception – paint, colour, shape, size – and ‘unreal’ or lived experience, which has the capacity to allow access beyond the level of immediate perceptual information. The ‘unreal’ is a real experience, it is categorized as unreal only in relation to the empirical experience of objective reality (2013).

Outside of the studio, I experience this unreal space in listening to the music of contemporary minimalists like Phillip Glass, Gavin Bryars, Eliane Radigue and Arvo Pärt to name just a few. In their music, the general lack of direction, progress or narrative produces a suspended or frozen time. They seem to ask the beholder of their music to get inside the sound to experience another world. In my experience being in the studio ready to work evokes that space, a blankness not just of time or canvas, but also in my mind, clearing it of the anxiety of expectation or history.

The Space Invader paintings come out of that space. They are all the same, each made by the same strict, liberating limitations. Strict, because each work is performed in exactly the same way – blobs of paint or a thin glaze applied to the canvas, which is scraped with a squeegee to remove the excess – and liberating, because constraint is not the enemy of creativity, limitless choice is the enemy. Limiting my pallet of creative options and minimizing trivial alternatives frees my aesthetic space. I am forced to focus on what is important AND there is no room for fear.

I wait in the moment to see something forming in the silent space between the canvas and me and act on that seeing with paint and hand-made tools directly on to the canvas. When each layer of paint is dry, I do it again. Wait. See. Act. The restraints I use are revealed by their impact on my visual language. It’s a language under pressure – compact, clean and driven. Most importantly the constraints help me to resist personal flourish. T.S. Eliot said, “Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl."

I follow those materials and processes through many layers of paint application, through the days and months, until; through that visceral handling of pressured freedom, I come to know what the painting is. In this way of constraint, I think that the painting retains its independence from me so that when it is seen, the viewer is not seeing a “painter-at-work”, but simply encountering the object itself.

In this focus on practice and process I understand that the painting creates itself as I apply my tools, AND will again, when it is exhibited and the viewer sees it. I like nothing better than to haunt a gallery where my work is hanging and observe those who come to see the work. I watch the painting being transformed by their evocation of that “unreal” space and it no longer belongs to me.

Space Invaders, new painting by Margaret Ellen Turner, winner of the 2013 Kenilworth Painting Prize is featured at this April's TEDxNoosa: Space 2014. The exhibition opens at The J, Noosa Junction, on 4 April and continues until 30 April.

2010, Bolt, B, “The Magic Is In The Handling”, in Practice as Research, Pp30&31, Eds. Barrett, E.
and Bolt, B., I.B. Taurus, London, NewYork.

2013, Davachi S.C., “Looking inward: La Monte Young, Arvo Pärt, and the spatiotemporal dwelling environment of minimalist music,”, Temporalities in Contemporary Music. Issue 1 Journal, Divergence Press, CeReNeM, University of Huddersfield Press