Flux Technicolour: An Interview with Mary Dinaburg
Mary Dinaburg: If you had to describe in a very concise way what you are after in a painting, what would you say?
Ian Woo: What I am after in a painting is a kind of visual suspension that suggest to the viewer analogies of weight, lightness, transparency and solidness, all of which implies to a possible object. I am also interested in a kind of lens that probes a perspective that is reflexive. I like to imagine that the painting is made up of viewing positions that are external as well as interior, all of which reflect against each other, causing dualities of cohesion and suspension. Other than that, I hope for the best, you see, I really like the painting to surprise my actions and determination. At the end of the day, notions of indetermination play foil to my best-laid plans.
MD: Your way of working is very intuitive and you state that you want the viewer to participate in the act of the making of art. How do you know when a painting has achieved that moment and is ready to engage the viewer?
IW: I need to correct that, I don’t expect the viewer to participate in the act of making art, and they can’t. I am selfish; I want to take the blame! What I want is for the audience to look. Looking is concentration; I spend quite a bit of time looking at the painting, allowing its qualities to justify its presence. Umberto Eco’s semiotic text ‘The Open Work’ was seminal in my thinking about the importance of the incompleteness of things, but how do you justify its presence? The danger with something like incompleteness is that it needs to be probed in relation to structures/history of language, in this case; drawing, painting and composition. Otherwise, I feel is a cop out, its useless. The question about how to complete a work of art, well in this case, its when I see ‘it’. I am going via the way of how a lawyer would advice me to withhold information from the police… Okay, I am withholding information, just because I don’t think it I will be able to talk about the finale of every painting! So, when I see ‘it’, correlates to the ideas about suspensions both cognitive and mental. It’s something like one who ponders the everyday, walking around and carefully looking to find something that translates to a reflective pause.
MD: What should art do for the viewer and what should it do for the artist?
IW: First, it should do for the artist everything he/she wants at that point in time. Absolutely. But really this question actually deals with the notion of seeing a work of art for the first time. That’s the situation with the viewer isn’t it? So, I think the artists at some point needs to be a stranger to his/her work, especially at its stage of resolution. I am reminded of the story of the painter Guston, who creeps into his studio to peep at his work that he deemed complete the day before. Like he was testing his instincts, checking whether he was too kind to himself with the quality of his intentions. I am sure he crept towards his studio with great fear and trembling! Art is complex, no matter how simple it looks. I see looking at art like taking a position and finding a different view of the world each time.
MD: Are you interested in achieving a balance and integration between form, colour and structure or do you seek to push all these things to the edge of disintegration?
IW: Can I say all of the above? It’s really a juggling process, I have to think all of these and at some point dismantle parts that have been resolved. So, it’s more of which ball do I catch first, the colour ball, or the structure ball? There are times when I get confused and everything drops, in these instances, I might change the game of juggling to lawn bowling! Balance and integration are really essentials in all art making. Now, disintegration, would be an essential 20th and 21st century device for relating to strategies of failure (in Communication). There are times where, I am not thinking of anything to do with balance but simply allowing painting to reach a point of formlessness, at which I decide to pull back, to provide some form of pivot. So it’s really a dialogue.
MD: Is it important to you that the colour in your paintings makes a synthetic moment of colour or do they refer to nature at all?
IW: Colour is metaphor to alchemy and temperature. Values of the artificial and natural are interesting opposites that I rely on because these combinations are a big part of our world. I like the analogy of a mix up between a flower and perhaps that of its simulation on for example a television screen. Perhaps a ricochet between the real and simulacra is really important to me. At some point, each element absorbs its reflection and produces another.
MD: Is the sublime a more dominant concept in your painting or do you aim for a more earthbound relationship?
IW: There is a tension that exist between the two which I think continues to bug me in the process of painting. I have a love for paintings with a spiritual, or exalted quality, especially since first seeing a W.Turner and Piero De la Franscesca. I think the idea of suspension comes from the quality of the spaces depicted in these paintings. It’s interesting that the pattern of questioning seems to point to dualities in time, and I am discovering that I need to clarify my position. So, although there are landscapes in my paintings, it’s not one of ours. It has its own time; own agenda, perhaps a possible heaven or even, hell.
MD: Do you think there is something that might be considered pure abstraction in your work? Or, are there references or analogies to location, object, ie still life, either physical or psychological?
IW: At this point, the paintings seem to end up suggesting certain types of places, an island, quasi hilltop, places of idealism perhaps. But it always ends up with a gravity that throws you off. So, I think there is a hybridization of abstract formalism that ends up being demarcated to fulfill its character of a still life. There is a strong intention of using abstraction as a platform to question its own vulnerability to perhaps become an object. And with these works, it cannot help itself but be pulled by a magnetic force, to return to the physical, to remind us of the space we are familiar with. Or do we think we are familiar with? It’s a funny position at this point in history. You can’t validate abstraction as absolutism; however, representation seems to continue to draw on its abilities to counteract its presence. So, I like to think that abstraction desires to be an object, or it imagines itself becoming object. A kind of contemplative wishful thinking that gets interrupted! A fantasy that gets interrupted, multiple times!
MD: You referred once to a correlation for you between music and art. More people in this world experience more of an emotional response to music than to visual art. Do you feel your paintings need to elicit a similar emotional reaction? Is the impetus to paint the same as your drive to make music?
IW: Sometimes I get a bit sick about painting. It’s work, labor. But when it does get somewhere, it really makes it worthwhile. I am afraid about correlations between visual art and music; it sometimes gets too easily lumped together literally. Worst would be if a painting represented a piece of music! I am more interested implying the experience of music when seeing a painting developed. But I would rather not say it comes from music, as one needs to treat a painting by itself. Its dangerous stuff that can lead to misinterpretation, I think this is one of the reasons why I do not listen to music when I paint. I am a bit suspicious of its claim.
MD: Flux Technicolour is the title you selected for this exhibition. While both words and visual imagery have long been used in an attempt to describe the abstract essence of music, it is rare that painting attempts to capture the concept of moving images that ‘Technicolour’ implies. So, apart from being a catchy title, what is its significance to the current body of work?
IW: Since, 1994, I have been interested in how a static image could suggest movement. But not like the abstract expressionist (the notion of the embodied) or action painting, but more like how the frames of the painting can govern a sense of time. Which is why, I always had this inclination to develop partial suggestions of imagery that leaked to the ends of the canvas. Later, I started to think of the painting as having multiple appearances and disappearances of matter. So, in that sense, I got this influence from the way music is introduce to our ears, how elements come in and out. The word Flux came from the idea of the ever-changing modes of structure and colour. Technicolour is a reference to my interest in synthetic, electronic and natural colours, how it floods my work.
MD: All of your paintings have titles. Are these signposts for the viewer or are they just personal markers for you?
IW: Signpost… it helps to get you there. Its like I need to provide the right pill for the trip.
MD: Do you have to paint?
IW: I like painting. I like pictures on walls. Painting is physical; it’s the analog of electronic pixilation, its funky. Seemingly sublime at a distance, but up close, it is substance, matter, pigment, dirt, follicle, whatever that you put on. I read somewhere that you cannot date paintings but you could date a video work due the characteristics of the technology; I like that analogy of painting’s timelessness. I also like the fact that anyone can afford to paint. From child to adult, it’s really accessible and not expensive. If I did not paint, I would make some music, write some words. It’s a bit late for anything else.