assembly - 2008

The art of our trade, like that of a painter, is to create the impression that the work simply appeared fully developed. The only way to do this is to totally master technique.
—Hubert de Givenchy

When I moved to the Lake District, several years ago, I started to follow fashion and haute couture much more intently. This was a direct response to moving from the cosmopolitan West Coast to the rural North of England. Suddenly I needed something to fill the gaps between that rare visit to the Tate Modern – or the Tate Liverpool – and the occasional local Sean Scully show. Even my opportunities to access the internet were few and far between, so I began to see glossy magazines as a fresh and ever-changing source of inspiration for form, colour, texture, pattern and composition. They were prevalent yet disposable: ready-mades I could peruse at my leisure and then rip up to assemble sketch books.

Several other artists working in my commercial studio shared this interest in fashion, and would swap fashion magazines. These artists provided a group of peers with whom I could discuss Miuccia’s use of texture, Marc’s colour choices, or Karl’s intriguing patterns.

Actually many more of my peers, male and female – not just the artistic work mates – still share my love of contemplating fashion. Why do we all have this in common? I think it is due to our shared Buddhist practice of “making offerings”. As part of our daily meditation practice we each make gifts to the Buddhas in order to cultivate a light and happy mind before meditating. Since this practice of giving offerings is primarily a mental action – not dependant on possessing physical substances – imagination is key. Of course the couture houses design all kind of delights to inspire us: from perfumes to silk dresses, dining room settings to bath products. All it takes is memory and imagination to include these colours, scents, patterns and textures as part of our daily offerings.

This current body of work stems from my personal offerings’ practice which is, of course, inspired by my love of fashion. In traditional Buddhist meditations offerings are delivered by young handsome gods and goddesses. Sometimes the offered forms, smells, and tactile objects are worn by, or integrated into, the gods and goddesses themselves (e.g. goddess wearing glittering jewels, gods smelling of heavenly cologne, goddesses wearing light silks).

Assembly depicts the more visual of these offerings: goddesses wearing designer clothes. The colours, forms, patterns and textures are inspired by different couture houses, and derive from my practice of imagining offering goddesses outfitted by those houses. Gold is often used as a Buddhist offering as it is considered very pure, so I’ve included gold leaf (along with palladium, silver and copper). Each sheet of Arches paper is hand-dyed with lightfast silk clothing dyes in clear colours. The graphite marks supporting each composition are grids used in traditional Buddhist art to draw offering goddesses. Of course each homage’s title gives credit where credit is due but, while inspired by the compositions of fashion designers, I’ve made each piece my own. Still I’d like to think that the designers themselves would be happy to show such pieces if they were given a similar opportunity to outfit a dozen beautiful young women for the purpose of delighting Holy Beings.

lovejoy - 2011

Rothko’s attitude with regard to painting and the job of the painter was particularly impressive to me. At the time I was really quite mixed about his work. It was both too holy and too decorative. Although the paintings apparently had a transcendental aspiration, they were used for decorative purposes, and looked overly beautiful in collectors’ apartments.  — Gerhardt Richter, 1997

In the statement for assembly  I wrote about the spiritual function of this work, so here I will address the methods and materials give rise to their form. I’ve gravitated toward the predominant craftspeople wherever I’ve lived. In California, I learned about composition and texture from book artists. In Oregon, intaglio printmakers taught me the value of line, while abstract painters taught me the value of colour. In Cumbria, I’ve learned to value of gilding, watercolour, and dip-dyeing in decorative arts – only fitting as I live just a few miles from John Ruskin’s Brantwood home (the birthplace of the Arts and Crafts Movement).

In particular, during nearly a decade in England, I was fortunate to learn professional gilding while working on commissions for Manjushri Centre at Conishead Priory and World Peace Temples worldwide. Gold makes such a beautiful offering as it is so pure and immutable. Gilding is a bit of a hidden art, as so few people know how to do to a high standard anymore. Even gold leaf itself is getting harder to find, with only two traditional manufacturers surviving in Britain. I always enjoy visiting family-run Habberley Meadows for my supplies.

I prefer traditional paints as well. Besides Winsor Newton watercolours, I use fine quality acrylic housepaint. These are light fast and pigment rich, giving wonderful matte colours. One of my favourites is Fired Earth, which uses 17th-century methods to make emulsions from natural pigments, minerals, and resins. Their subtle, opaque colours look wonderful on top of the transparent, deep colours I use to dye the canvases.

I have a stock of discontinued Dylon hand-dyes – another British institution – in wonderfully eccentric colours such as Reindeer Beige and Kingfisher Blue. Dyeing canvases give the perfect ground to begin work. My friend Rick Bartow often advised me about the difficulties posed by a blank white canvas or paper. He advised making mark as soon as possible – either by scratching lines, giving a wash of colour, or even with footprints: any place to begin. My starting point is dip-dying canvases. Each variable and unique one points to an image. For inspiration, I collect pages from fashion magazines. So many designers are inspired by art that the reflexive nature of using their work for inspiration seems fitting! As someone who loved studying Art History, finding these references is second nature. I love to see art used as a “language of design” in modern fashion. And so you will read Degas’ colours in Loewe Offers, Sonia Delaunay’s soft sculpture patterns in Nicole Farhi Offers, Warhol’s silkscreen techniques in DVF Offers, Mondrian’s compositions in Prada Offers, and Rothko’s inspiration in Sonia Rykiel Offers. It is a delight to make such decorative paintings using this language of design, craft materials and methods, and with a spiritual motivation.