Persimmon Life Studies

Gravity’s Architecture – Tim McFarlane

Masks, 2009, acrylic on panel, 24” x 36”

Brent: One of the things that intrigue me about your work is how very immediate it feels.
But then, also, there is this fine sense of order; a tension that just reads so. There are often layers, sometime layers upon layers, some almost obliterated, or covered over. There is this sense of frenzy at work, though every move feels so considered, every layer, or clean slate making sense to the next. But this is, of course, looking at a finished piece. I’m sure the actual act, the sitting looking, the going back in, the results so far… these aren’t perfectly arranged layers and movements that happen. What appears in the end as a beautiful display of order and chaos, a pitched tension between control and free play, is something worked at?

Tim: You’ve hit on a lot of what goes on in my decision-making process while painting. There is a lot of back and forth, playing one layer/color/direction off of another, making decisions about how much to save and what to sacrifice. There is a dance between control and chaos that contributes to that tension that you sense. Some of that is because I do work fairly quickly once I get going, but as most of the paintings progress I take more time to evaluate what I want to do next. One of my prime concerns is maintaining a sense of freshness and immediacy through to the final version. From one layer to the next, I find myself taking more time making decisions about how colors are interacting, how thick or thin my marks should be, All That Could Be, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 60” x 84”and how much of the previous layers I want to leave in.

In All That Could Be, from 2006, I began a practice of building my works up using the color of the support, in this case, canvas, as a starting point for mark making as opposed to laying down a color first. I found that leaving even a little bit of the raw canvas showing kept me keenly aware of where I began and the type of energy I wanted to maintain through the completion of the piece. Also, leaving earlier layers showing through to later layers gives viewers a chance to experience something of the journey I took in the evolution of the painting. So, yes, I’m always working to keep some amount of freshness amid the multiple layers in any given piece.

Brent: The mark-making in All That Could Be is very curious. It’s chain-like. Little open areas of color, color actually drawn as rectangles that join together?
The structural feel is that it allows openness for the color to breathe, for the layers to work so well. The chains run each and every way, while they build up a rhythm of marks and surfaces. The piece becomes very unified that way.
In Candy Coated, 2008 chains appear again. Plus there is larger and looser interlocking that fit differently together. And there are areas of diversely treated color and surface.

Tim: Allowing the work to breathe is what brought me to the way I’ve been working for the past three years: The chain-like structures evolved out of slightly harder-edged architectonic forms in earlier works that suggested buildings, ladders, grids, and other man-made structures. The colors were more opaque and the individual layers were much more distinct. In the months that led up to All That Could Be, I began moving away from the denser, hard-edged forms so I could engage in the type of open, all-over composition that is present in ATCB. Having a sense of movement and allowing earlier stages of the work more directly influence the later stages became the challenge that I set up for myself. The ‘chains’ are all joined by folding them back on themselves while painting to provide more of a cohesive whole. Each layer of loops is made up of one or two layers because of this back-and-forth brushwork that reinforces the forms.
By the time I got to Candy Coated, close to two years after All That Could Be, I felt that my ‘all-over’ approach had run its course. I was fairly certain that if I continued along that course I’d become bored and the paintings would suffer, becoming lifeless and dull.
One way I keep the work moving is to look back on the past; I like to see if there is anything worth bringing forward that might generate new ideas. I looked at some older paintings and decide to revisit some of the graphic, linear patterns. I thought that by bringing some variation of flat patterning back into the work and play it against the interlocking layering, I could create situations with new kinds of tensions between colors and use of space.

Brent: The horizontal lines in Candy Coated are about the same thickness as the loops, so there is this unified feel – the loops just having been stretched out and ordered differently. With later paintings you thicken up the straight lines so there is greater disparity between the links or loops and the straights.
From Here To Now, back on canvas, started 2006, completed this year, has a very fast and furious feel of links and loops chaining in the center that run almost past the top and bottom edges of the canvas. The sides are free. ‘Thick’ is a suggestion of a series of veils, or a heavy net, though in each case there is still this transparency. The two sides that appear free and open are actually quite dense compared to the veils of dark area. There are no pattern lines shifting space here, but there is still a shift.

Tim: The change in the stripe thickness in later works is just me wanting to push things a little. Once I’d done Candy Coated and felt that the combination of stripped and netted worked, my very next thought was to see what would happen if I disrupted that unification-how can I change the relationship between the main elements and still make the combination work? That’s where the later changes came in.
From Here To Now actually covers another painting that I completed in 2006 called Blue Rush. BR never quite came together as a painting. It sat in my studio for almost three years until I decided to finally just reuse the canvas. I actually documented the reworking on my blog. The final composition of this painting mirrors a similar one I did with a large (60” x 50”) work on paper in ink. The middle tangle of layers was horizontal in that piece. I needed to see how that idea might work on canvas and went for it. Also, the forms do go off of the edge of the painting, so it seems like you’re just seeing part of a flow of color.

Brent: Are all these paintings within eyeshot when making decisions?

Tim: Yes, most of the time I’m working on two, three or maybe four pieces at one time. It’s a habit that came out of my college days. One wall is used for recently completed works and the adjoining perpendicular wall is my ‘working wall’, so there are always visual references to inform newer works. So, for example, Pour was around for a few months before I got around to working on Another Place and Argo. Having Pour there gave me a place to start a dialogue for the later works.

Aside from works of my own, I keep books about other artists, exhibition postcards and random art magazines in the studio along with a wide range of music to listen to. Sound inspires me a lot, from experimental, glitchy electronic music, minimal techno, and deep house, to Philip Glass, Bjork, and Radiohead and a lot in between.
I’m constantly coming across images on the ‘net that get added onto the layers of visual information/inspiration. I’m constantly looking, looking, looking while walking and even just sitting. The smallest crack in a wall can have the samePour, 2008, acrylic on panel, 16” x 16” impact as a book loaded with images of a favorite artist.

Brent: Pour is the ultimate in disparity… very clean horizontal lines appearing almost measured, and then you make your music over the top of them. And, as you mention, your opening bands, they get wider and messier, start to disagree with the thin ribbons though resemble links and chains in density and playfulness: Here I’m looking at Another Place. And then Argo where the bands are wide and open but almost covered completely, though in good operational order noticed as you run your finders down the edges of the different colored blinds.
What artists are you looking at? Does Gravity’s Architecture and Mary Heilmann have any relation?

Tim: I thought you might ask me about Mary Heilmann’s work in relation to Gravity’s Architecture. I’ve been aware of Heilmann’s work for a while, but it’s always been on the periphery of my attention until recently, that is, after I’d completed GA. Two other artists who have informed a lot of my work over the past 8 years or so have been Brice Marden and Sean Scully. For various reasons, others include: Richard Serra, Mark Rothko, Matisse, Cezanne, Franz Kline, Ellsworth Kelly, and more.
Originally, I thought what wound up being GA would be the base for some other structure on top. I wanted to see how the thinned out acrylic washes I was utilizing in works on paper at the time would translate to wood panel. I wasn’t sure about the results at first because I struggled with not covering the horizontals over with some other form(s). I let it sit for almost a month before it grew on me enough to include it in my last solo Gravity’s Architecture, 2009, acrylic on panel, 16” x 16”show at the Bridgette Mayer Gallery (‘Right Now’-April, 2009). The drips provide a sense of immediacy while also providing visual ‘stops’ for the quick horizontal movement of the lines. I think it stands out in a good way from my other concurrent works. GA has provided a new line of inquiry that allows me to still explore the shallow, but dynamic space and layering that has permeated my work recently.

Brent: Interesting I thought Guston would have been up there at the top of your list…
You seem to have solved a few of the problems he was having with abstraction.
The horizontal bars have a rest. The drips become part of your vocabulary. And the only way to get something to drip at the scale you are working is to have the paint quite thin.
I think of these newer pieces as moving out of the frame while actually working well within the edges. The background is either plane, or left as is. If working on panel the wood texture and color assumes the background field. And you build clouds out of your interconnecting marks. And the parts rain, color pulls down with gravity. These drips also stand up quite solidly, or as solid as a cloud.

Tim: You know, a lot of people have brought up Guston’s name in relation to my work but I’ve never made a solid connection for myself. I like some of his work, but, again, Guston is one of those artists I haven’t paid a lot of attention to. Maybe that’s how it happens, you know, we pick up things subliminally from sources that we show the least amount of interest in at first.
I stripped away the bars in Masks because I love seeing the wood grain in the panels and wanted to preserve some of it in the final stage. It also meant that whatever images I painted would be sitting/hanging in an undefined space, creating a new set of issues to deal with and bringing more focus on the forms themselves. The directionality of the wood grain also acts as a counter point to the steady, floating feeling of the main image. Interestingly, the drips seem too serve to enhance the floating feeling by acting as visual tethers, connecting the ‘floaters’ to the bottom edge of the paintings.

Brent: Floaters, balls, clouds… Recently, you had the opportunity to work direct… well, to paint a small room. This gave you the chance to forget where the painting was in relation to the support, making it very clear that the painting was working with you—Any new awareness that developed along the way?

Tim: There was a lot going on with this project, which I titled, This Moment. It was my first site-specific piece, located in what we call the vault room, a small project space in the rear of the gallery. I worked on it in April, 2009, during gallery hours, while Right Now was showing. I took myself out of my typical solitary studio situation and put everything out there for everyone to see as it developed over the month. I didn’t have any plan except to go in there every day, work and see what happened.
This Moment began as a drawing project but, a few days into it, I wasn’t satisfied with how things were coming along. The drawing wasn’t strong enough for my taste and after stepping away from it for a couple of days, I returned and jumped into painting. Painting allowed me to engage the space in a much more direct manner. At the same time, I found that painting in such a small space (71” wide, 61” deep and 115” at its highest point) affected me psychologically as I built up the layers. I became acutely aware of how the shallow layering I use can change a flat surface depending on the density of marks. That, coupled with a small amount of space to step back from the work in either direction made it much more confrontational as the painting evolved.
Not having the type of control over the support that I’m used to in the studio made this project a real challenge. However, when all was said and done, I felt that I’d opened a new path for myself, one where the studio can be where ever I find a space to paint in or on.

This Moment (looking up to ceiling), 2009, acrylic on wall, dimensions variable

4 thoughts on “Gravity’s Architecture – Tim McFarlane

  1. I enjoyed this interview and seeing Tim’s work. I see why you mentioned Guston. I also thought of Louise Bourgoise’ 2D work.

  2. Great interview–rich with details and insight into Tim’s process. Viewing “This Moment” was a wonderful experience, and being privy to stages of progress in the work felt like a special privilege.

    Brent, thanks for Visual Discrepancies–a worthy read every time.

  3. Pingback: Discrepencies visuels; Conversations | Art Gallery

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