For the paintings in this exhibition I began my research as I often do, with some interest in photographs. Stumbling upon an image of a beach filled with people I was drawn at first to the abstract qualities of the photo and to the colors. The close observation required in my painting process began to reveal details of the groups and the individuals that make up this sea of shapes. Certain figures and interactions interest me more than others and, as I enlarge and reposition the forms, the relationships between them inform my thinking about how to proceed and ultimately the themes that tie the paintings together.
All these little shapes, these tiny figures, each one full of secrets. All the spaces and connections between them. The visual complexity is a perfect metaphor for the ocean of relationships within which we swim. I have a sense that just beyond my comprehension, but perhaps within reach of my unconscious, is a deep truth concerning the relationship between the one and the many.
Of primary interest to me is the juxtaposition of rigorously rendered realism and intuitive paint manipulation. For me the tension between these ways of working creates the energy in the paintings. Another important theme which has appeared in my work for some time concerns the gaze and attention of the figures in the painting. Often they are reacting to something which is happening outside of the boundaries of the painting, something we can’t see. This dynamic creates a space for the viewer’s imagination to inhabit. As Bob Dylan has written: “Something’s happening here but you don’t know what it is...” ; an apt description of being alive.
I was once told by a teacher that the process of painting and thinking don’t work well together at the same time. I find this to be true. However, I find it impossible to completely turn off the thinking mind for long. My thinking mind interferes least with the process when I am focused on seeing. As the results of the seeing begin to accrue on the surfaces I sometimes can glimpse how, without a conscious plan or destination, the greater meaning becomes clear in relation to all the small decisions along the way. This is not unlike how the teeming life of the crowd is dependent on each complex individual life, every one.
Philip Buller 2012