Andy Parkinson, Colour-Spread System (3 x 3: Blue, Green, Black, with Yellow, Pink, Blue), 2014. Acrylic on MDF; 9″x 9″.
Artist and systems thinker Andy Parkinson meets with Traction to talk us through his practice and discuss the ‘amusing, entertaining and fascinating’ impossibility of repetition.
Your work must require a degree of planning before you begin a composition. How do you know when a pattern should begin and end?
I am rarely ever aware of planning, even though of course it must be taking place. Each new work comes out of a previous one and there are so many other variations that suggest themselves whilst I am working on one that it never really feels like planning. I am working with very simple systems or patterns, once I have chosen one that interests me for the present then multiple permutations become immediately available. I almost always work in series, and there’s a lot of repetition involved (even though strictly speaking repetition is impossible).
Andy Parkinson, contra check 1, 2014. Acrylic on canvas; 20" x 20".
There is no beginning or end to a repeat pattern, but it exists within the limitations of a frame, whether an individual motif is the starting point that then grows outwards, or whether the dimensions of the support are the starting point and the space available is divided, resulting in an outside-in direction. Spatially, beginning and endings are always somehow related to the support. At the moment, I am working on geometric divisions of a hexagonal shaped support, whereas in the last few years I have been using divisions of a square. In 2010 I first started using a pattern I named 'Berkeley Square,’ that was a 3 inch motif repeated by doubling, the 'ending’ was determined arbitrarily by the size of the piece being as big as 'felt right’ in the end they were 4 foot squares. The doubling process meant that they could have only been 3"x3", 6"x6", 12"x12", 24"x24", 48"x48" etc. At 48" I thought I’d done enough to establish the pattern.
Perhaps an important distinction to make is the one between composition and construction. It seems to me that a system can never really be composed, always constructed. Each individual part has equal emphasis and functions according to the whole. At no time would it be appropriate to give extra emphasis to a particular part. So there’s no composition really going on here, and therefore very limited planning or decision-making.
Andy Parkinson, contra check 2, 2014. Acrylic on canvas; 20" x 20".
The act of repetition necessitates its inherent impossibility. As a maker, this could be (to name but a few possible characteristics) comforting, discouraging, empowering, or frustrating. How does it play out for you?
Amusing, entertaining, fascinating - words like that I think. That repetition is clearly an experience we have: when I use the term “a repeat pattern” we know just what I mean. And when we do a similar action over and over again we say the activity is repetitive (usually with negative connotations). However, strictly speaking, each repetition is a new beginning, we cannot really experience the repetition. “You can’t step into the same river twice”. It’s a paradox, and I find paradoxes fascinating and amusing.
I am interested in the notion of a “simulacra”, a copy without an original, and it seems to me that “repeated” geometric figures are exactly this. I am myself an identical twin, and I wonder if this partly explains the fascination.
Why do you think it is that in painting and drawing that you find the optimal vessel for your ideas?
Mostly I guess it’s because I can do it! My singing is terrible, though I could no doubt learn to do it better. My wife and I have been learning to dance for years, and we’re OK, sometimes we even refer to ourselves as dancers, but it is definitely learned, and it’s a slow process. Don’t people become artists because they are the ones who could draw at school? It came naturally for me and I could do it without a lot of effort. I hope I get better at it but I could do it naturally and so I now find that it’s very direct. There’s no felt sense of a distinction between thinking and doing. Drawing and painting are like thinking out loud for me.
Andy Parkinson, contra check 3, 2014. Acrylic on canvas; 20" x 20".
I also feel committed to the two-dimensional, painting and drawing as opposed to sculpture or reliefs (but again I am a lot better at drawing than I am at constructing in wood or other materials). The world as we perceive it visually is a two-dimensional image in the occipital lobe.
Tell us a little about your relationship to colour. When viewing your work, we become particularly aware of the fact that our experience of a colour is entirely reliant on our experience of its surroundings, so that no two encounters with a particular shade can ever be identical. As such, the artist is required to relinquish a huge amount of control to the viewers’ perceptions. How do you choose which and how many colours to work with?
The number of colours to work with is determined by the given system or pattern. I feel the need to justify any colour other than one. In my black and white paintings, I am covering - obliterating almost - high coloured patterns underneath. It’s partly a protest at the mistrust of colour in contemporary art (described in the brilliant book Chromophobia by David Batchelor) and partly an investigation into the power, as well as the limitations, of pattern to cover, to hide, to obstruct. Aspects of what is being covered tend to show through, they get incorporated into the final image. In these paintings, I could only justify the use of black and white. Then, I noticed that after a few minutes viewing we construct our own colours anyway, the black and whites become greens and reds, and then they shift and other colours are generated, and this is the important thing: by the viewer. So yes, I am relinquishing a lot of control to the viewer and that’s fundamental to what I am doing.
Andy Parkinson, Hexagon, colour-spread study, 2014. Acrylic on canvas; 6″ sides.
In my paintings, I keep coming back to a figure invented in 1981 by visual cognition scientists Christoph Redies and Lothar Spillmann. This figure demonstrates the phenomena known as Neon colour-spread, in which the viewer constructs a disc of color when presented only with lines. Yes, It is specifically the way that the viewer constructs color that interests me, keeping in mind that I am also a viewer!
What is coming up next for you?
There are so many avenues that the work opens up in terms of new paintings and I am pursuing these. I recently visited the Eden Project and got interested in the hexagonal construction of the biospheres, so a lot of my investigations just now are to do with hexagons. Of course, I am also working on a number of opportunities to show my work. There are a few proposals in progress, many of them exploring themes that are related to technology.
Visit Andy’s blog, http://patternsthatconnext.wordpress.com, for news of upcoming shows and further insights into Andy Parkinson’s practice.