Diary of a Painting - Roland Hicks

‘Four Part Dissemblage [COMM]’,  Acrylic gouache on birch ply gesso panel, 40x20cm, 2019.

I start with a single birch ply panel, primed with white acrylic gesso front and edges. Next, pencil lines are drawn to divide the surface into sections, which will, in due course, start to look like separate offcuts of various types of chipboard or melamine shelving.
It’s based on a linear composition worked out previously in a sketchbook, with four equal sized, vertically stacked sections, but I often change my mind at this stage too. In the original sketch the coloured panel is second from bottom, but I decide to move it up a place. It’s important the composition can appear both carefully considered and fairly spontaneous. I want the painting to seem ‘successful’ as a piece of geometric abstraction, or as a found material assemblage piece, as well as a realist trompe l’oeil illusion, and to treat these different aspects as equally important. I think a lot of trompe l’oeil falls flat [both literally and figuratively] once you ‘get’ it – trickery by itself isn’t that interesting unless it opens up other conversations.

There’s no pre-existent chipboard model to work from, so arguably this is a work of pure [albeit deliberately limited] imagination. I’m now able to make much of the work without direct observation of the materials suggested, though I do have bits of actual chipboard etc lying around for reference if needed... [In fact in this case when I get to the top section I do need to look closely at a real piece of painted chipboard to mimic the way the brushmarks peter out towards the exposed area on the top left, and the way the right hand edge appears to have been damp stained.]

I’m using Japanese acrylic gouache paint – it has that same soft, flat quality and density of pigment of standard gouache, but is more durable and water resistant, so more suitable for unglazed work. I think I was partly drawn towards gouache from looking at works on paper by South American Concrete/Neo-concrete artists [Helio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, Willys de Castro, Lygia Pape etc]. Some years back I only ever worked in oils, and only used photographs as source material, but that’s all changed over the past few years. I suppose it’s still a fairly meticulous process, but now a piece usually takes days/weeks rather than several months. Consequently I feel more present in the creative moment, as my mind is far less likely to have moved on to something else I’d rather be doing. I used to think there was some value [possibly in a slightly masochistic way] to spending months continually on a painting, that some kind of endurance and suffering was necessary to achieve desired results. And I suppose that can be true, but it’s also no guarantee of good work. Likewise working more speedily feels less frustrating and more spontaneous, but this also doesn’t in itself make the work any better or worse. It’s just a different way of working. Much more enjoyable for me though, and it’s definitely made the work seem more playful and free to experiment. Perhaps less risk averse. [Though that’s all relative].

I paint the white ‘melamine’ sections with a small, soft roller, the white mixed with varying amounts of greyish beige to suggest different degrees of discolouration. 
On one section I decide to add a pure white area with a painted screw hole to suggest where a shelf bracket has prevented aging. 
Roughly sawn edges are added with yellow ochre/burnt umber. I spend a fair amount of time considering which edges should appear cut and which not, as it subtly changes the visual flow of the work. I also think of them a bit like Barnett Newman’s ‘zips’.

‘Chipboard’ is created with a base colour overpainted with hundreds of tiny dots, dashes and whorls of darker and paler tones, using very small brushes [I get through a lot of these]. This is the first painting I’ve done where the chipboard looks like it has already been partially coated with emulsion. 
The blue painted ‘OSB’ section [that’s Oriented Strand Board, by the way, the more highly textured chipboard made from compressed layers of chunky wooden shreds] here is just Peacock blue mixed with white, though I tried several other colours before deciding on this. It’s actually ended up very close to the colour in my original sketch. [Sometimes first thought is best thought]. Highlights and shadows are added to suggest the surface texture, and ochre/umber again to suggest gaps around the edges where the paint has missed or chipped away. 

‘Staples’ are next to be painted - I often angle these deliberately to discreetly lead the eye around the work. I don’t paint too many - I like the suggestion that they provide a pretty flimsy means of holding the work together, that it could maybe all fall apart at any moment. 

The side edges are last to be painted, continuing and completing the illusion that these are separate 3D sections joined together, making the work seem both object and image.

I realise I’ve used a lot of inverted commas around described materials - which might suggest the work is steeped in irony. I suppose there must be some element of this, but it’s not the overriding factor. And I’m pretty sure there’s nothing cynical here. Even though I’m being deceitful in not using the materials I appear to be, it’s far more an act of homage than mockery. And a desire for the work to be several things at once.

While making the work I find it increasingly difficult to work with the wrong kind of noise. I used to always have the radio on, or listen to podcasts, or just any current favourite albums, but often find these too distracting now [probably because of what I said before about feeling more present in the creative moment these days] so I tend towards more ambient/instrumental types of music in the studio. Though not always – it’s not a sacred code of practice. And sometimes a bit of silence is good too, along with the background sounds of passing trains, or birds’ feet tapping across the skylights overhead. [No wind chimes or whalesong though...]. 
Anyway, old favourites like Eno, German ‘kosmische’, minimalism/Steve Reich etc, and some types of jazz and dub generally seem to work well for me – repetitive, quite hypnotic, not too intrusive but more interesting than just aural wallpaper too. Which I guess might also be qualities I want from the paintings...


Studio listening:
Ryuichi Sakamoto ‘Async’, 
The Durutti Column ‘The Return Of The Durutti Column’ 
Miles Davis ‘Get Up With It’, 
Hiroshi Yoshimura ‘Music For Nine Postcards’
Cate le Bon ‘Reward’
Cluster ‘Zuckerzeit’, 
Jon Hassell ‘Listening to Pictures’ 
Robert Wyatt ‘Cuckooland’, 
Tirzah ‘Devotion’, 
The Comet is Coming ‘Trust in the Life Force of the Deep Mystery’, 
Joni Mitchell ‘Hejira’, 
Fennesz ‘Agora’ 
Lee Scratch Perry ‘Super Ape’, 
Grace Jones ‘Hurricane/Dub’, 
Eno/Harold Budd ‘The Plateau of Mirror’, 
David Sylvian & Holger Czukay.’Plight and Premonition/Flux and Mutability’ 
Tortoise ‘TNT’,
[I also listened to quite a bit of Scott Walker and Mark Hollis [of Talk Talk] who sadly both died during this period]

[studio reference]
‘Concrete Matters’ – Moderna Museet/Koenig books catalogue 2018
‘Lygia Pape’ – Metropolitan Museum catalogue/Yale UP 2017
‘Robert Ryman’ 1993 tate catalogue
‘The Paintings of Sylvia Plimack Mangold’ Albright-Knox Art Gallery catalogue, 1994
‘Vija Celmins - To Fix The Image In Memory’ SFMOMA catalogue/Yale UP 2018
‘Carmen Herrera’ Ikon gallery catalogue 2009
‘Rauschenberg Cardboards’ Menil Collection
‘Nature Morte’, Michael Petry, Thames and Hudson
‘Looking at the Overlooked’ Norman Bryson, Reaktion books

David Toop ‘Ocean of Sound’
Rebecca Solnit ‘Wanderlust’
Max Porter ‘Lanny’
David Sedaris ‘Calypso’

Exhibitions visited:
Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, Hauser & Wirth
Christopher Hanlon, Domo Baal
Tom Hackney, Eagle Gallery/dalla Rosa
Franz West, Tate Modern
Vincent Hawkins, Sid Motion
Agnes Martin, Levy Gorvy
Alan Reynolds, Annely Juda
Narbi Price, Herrick Gallery
Christian Marclay, White Cube Mason’s Yard

Roland Hicks 

Roland's painting: Four Part Dissemblage [COMM] can currently be seen in the group show 'Graduation' at Patrick Heide Contemporary Art until 21-09-19.