Diary of a Painting - Charley Peters

UFN /\ THT (2019), acrylic and spray paint on linen, 40cm x 55cm

I start each painting without a fixed idea of what I’m working towards. I began UFN /\ THT by applying a flat ground of mid-tone colour across the entire surface, in this case Cobalt Blue, mixed with Titanium White and a little Light Turquoise (Phthalo). Colour comes first in all my paintings, and from there I divide the support’s surface into compositional areas, which I treat as individual aspects of the whole painting. I then continue working on the canvas until I’ve developed what I consider to be a coherent relationship between each element and/or a holistic, balanced ‘image’. 

My studio is very cold at this time of the year so I paint next to my heater, which is on wheels and I drag it round the studio to wherever I’m working. As UFN /\ THT is a small painting, I laid it flat on the floor to work. I don’t like working on a table, it feels too static and passive – being on the floor allows me to move around and see the painting from all angles. I usually have 2-3 paintings in progress at once and have them all within my eye line as I work so I can have thoughts about what to do next on each successive layer of every work. As I paint I make quick sketches that help me consider my next move – sometimes in small sketchbooks that I have on the floor next to me as a paint, but more often on scraps of newsprint that I sit on to work and that protect the floor from being coated in too much paint. These aren’t resolved sketches but moreover half-formed impressions of shapes or tones.

It’s difficult to say where decisions come from in the process of painting. I try to reject logical thought as much as possible in the studio, preferring to do things because they feel right, or intriguing or challenging visually…or often because they feel problematic or wrong somehow. Paintings for me are like puzzles that should be solved, or codes that need to be cracked. They are difficult and frustrating things but I’m compelled to keep making them as I discover more beginnings of potential paintings in each work than I’ll ever have time to make in my lifetime. In this regard paintings are equally energising and draining. 

After painting the flat blue ground I added darker tones at each corner, hotter and deeper at what I felt would probably be the bottom of the composition, and some warmth in the centre, that I imagined I would mirror somehow in whatever happened on the next layer of painting. These tones were applied quickly with spray paint, which I angled low to the painting’s surface to hit the edge of the linen and stream over the ground. I find the sensibility of sprayed paint very seductive, it’s dewy and full of air and light – it has the capacity to be totally opaque or delicate and translucent depending on how it’s applied. I use spray paint rarely these days, preferring to run acrylic paint through a spray gun, but I do still enjoy the challenge of working with pre-determined colours and then subsequently mixing my own colours to work against, or complement, what comes straight from the can. 
As the paint was drying I looked at the quick drawings I’d made in between layers of painting – they were mostly scribbles of marks that barely made sense. Many featured diagonal lines which I often find difficult to work with – they are too dynamic and full of movement – but I felt defied to make strong, graphic shapes work over the subtle shifts in tone on the ground. I masked off two equally sized triangular forms to fill with repeated shapes, knowing that the repetition would be broken by a shift in colour throughout the two forms. I’m uncomfortable with ‘pattern’, so rarely leave areas of repetitive shapes or colour uninterrupted by an oppositional gesture or divergent quality of paint. I know I’ll always undertake labour intensive and precise painting and then paint over it afterwards but do it anyway. I never want paintings to be logical or make sense before they are finished.

I used a gradation of colours from cold to hot to cold again from the top to the bottom of the painting, taping off different tonal areas and working from light to dark in successive layers. I use Frog Tape and run a thin layer of acrylic medium over the edge to get a clean, hard line to the paint – keeping the acrylic paint thick and buttery to avoid any bleed. Each tonal layer of tape took two hours to cut to size and apply on the relatively small canvas (this process can take 5-6 hours on any surface over a metre) – this part of the painting is always slow and incredibly boring. The painting itself is quicker but done with care, matching tones is important and this is more difficult with hot colours, which are always too translucent for my liking and easily start to look grubby. After completing the second layer it felt too rhythmic and logical - and that annoyed me - so I painted out a section in the bottom right corner to interrupt the repeated configuration of shapes. 

I enjoy using opposites: implied viewpoints from both above and straight on in the same painting, solid colour next to stark diagrammatic lines, flat paint next to areas of illusionary pictorial depth, precisely painted hard edges broken by rapidly sprayed gestures. I love that the more paint that I add, the more it can reduce how much ‘image’ I see, and the more that I paint over things, the easier it Is to see the textured ‘surface’ of masked-off information beneath. 

My time in the studio is just for painting, I ban myself from taking my laptop or books there so I’m not distracted by admin or reading. While making UFN /\ THT I was dipping into these books at home after finishing work in the studio – I never read things cover to cover but pick and choose the chapters that sound the most interesting:

Isabelle Graw ‘The Love of Painting’
Tess Jaray ‘Painting: Mysteries and Confessions’
Carolyn L. Kane ‘Chromatic Algorithms: Synthetic Color, Computer Art, and Aesthetics after Code’

In the studio I listened to recordings of lectures about painting while I worked. I wish I had taken in more than I did, I only ever absorb 30% of what is being discussed. I’ll listen to things over and over again until I can’t stand them any more, I don’t really hear much when I’m painting but quiet speech or the mechanised, repetitive rhythm of electronic music helps me to block out the sound of my restless brain and focus on working. Sometimes I get tired of noise and just sit quietly to paint. These were some of the things I was listening to (but not really hearing):

Alex Bacon: Landon Metz and the Legacy of Color Field Painting
What's at Stake for Abstract Painting Today – and Where Do We Go from Here?
The Oldness of Abstraction (or Can Abstract Art Be New?)
Underground Resistance - live @ Funkhaus Berlin (Full Set HiRes) – ARTE Concert
Dark Techno, Detroit, Techno, Tech- House - 2 hours Mixset - Nico Silva Oliveira

To make UFN /\ THT I used primed fine linen and the following:

Golden Heavy Body Acrylic
Light Turquoise (Phthalo)
Cadmium Yellow Dark
Vat Orange
Medium Magenta
Light Violet
Cobalt Blue
Titanium White
Carbon Black

Golden Fluid Acrylic 
Sprayed through an airbrush, diluted 1:1 with Golden Airbrush Medium
Titanium White

Molotow Belton Premium Spray Paint
Shock Blue
Cadmium Yellow

Frog Tape 
Acrylic matt medium
No.8 filbert brush
Iwata Eclipse CS Airbrush 

UFN /\ THT (2019) will be on show in Carry On at FOLD Gallery, London